Feather Bed

The Universe is constantly sending us signs.

Me, I might be overly sensitive in my hunt for sign and significance, but always being open to them has lead me down some pretty interesting roads.

I was trying recently, as I apparently frequently am, to explain one of these signage mechanisms to Sweet Doris from Baltimore.

“The Featherbed-framed racing Norton is one of the only motorcycle frame structures so significant that it has its own name.  The McCandless brothers of Belfast created a foundational motorcycle chassis design – with one of the first applications of a twin shock absorber rear swinging arm suspension – that its development rider said rode so comfortably it was like ‘riding a feather bed’.”

“It’s a stupid name.”

“I guess it does kinda sound stupid, now, but in the context of 1949, when most motorcycles had kidney busting, back belt requiring rigid rear frames, it prolly made a lot more sense.”

You’d be entirely within your reader’s rights to inquire what on earth could possibly motivate an otherwise thinking male human to attempt this conversational topic with his beloved life partner, who was more than likely in no way impressed or compelled by the subject or its presenter, at that particular moment.

And having made that sensible inquiry, I’m more or less compelled to unravel the strands of the tale for you.




Having received my new Heidenau Scouts for my /5,  it was time to get them mounted and try ‘em out.

Fortunately, the traumatic experience I’d been through changing the rear tire on my R90S was nowhere in evidence here.   The rear axle and tire – with my customary pit crew help provided by Sweet Doris from Baltimore – were off and leaning against the garage wall in under five minutes flat.  And thanks to the assist from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department of the University of Michigan, the front wheel and drum brake assembly joined them five minutes later. The Toaster might be 47 years old, but properly torqued fasteners and proper lubrication made the entire exercise absolutely trivial.

I felt almost moistened by a rare flood of something approaching mechanical confidence.

I stacked two tires, two wheels and two new tubes in the back of my wagon in preparation for my run up to Fredericktown Yamaha in the morning when they opened.




Two days later, my phone rang with the news that the tires were ready to be picked up.  After quitting time, I blasted back up to Frederick and re-loaded my newly mounted and balanced tires.

It was a little hot out, but I wasn’t going to let any time elapse before trying these new and different skins.  I subjected both brake drums to a washdown with brake cleaner and some clean shoprags.  I greased up the drive splines, inner wheel bearing races, spacers and axles, and went to work. The front wheel was back in place in under five minutes – I torqued the axle bolt, pinch bolt and both ends of the brake stay rod to spec – bang done. I gave the wheel a gentle spin, and the bearings spun smoothly with no noise or binding – the shop had clearly done an accurate job balancing my wheel, as well.

It was then that I realized I had a little problem.

We motorcyclists are far from the only enthusiasts who have found themselves going outright stir-crazy during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic.

Right after I had dropped off my wheels at the shop, Sweet Doris from Baltimore had loaded up her recumbent pedal trike, her camping gear, and had headed out to complete the final section of her C & O Canal National Park Towpath end to end though ride. She’d had a crawful of being stuck inside yelling at the television news, and was set-jaw determined to do something about it.  Cumberland to DC is 184 miles, most of it in pretty remote country, and if you’d like some space to air out one’s head, it’s a prime location.

In this partnership, when either one of us makes a definitive statement like, “I just gotta go for a long ride,” we both know what that means, and cut each other the space to stretch out until its feels like time to come home. Sweet Doris might prefer pedals to my handful of throttle, but it’s exactly the same urge.

Net/net – freaking great for Sweet D, camping out solo amongst the bears and the bobcats – but I’d apparently lost my pit crew.

I am an engineer – I live to solve problems.

Looking around the garage, I grabbed my trusty Greenspring Dairy milk crate and a mover’s blanket.

I slid the milkcrate under the Toaster’s left cylinder head, folded up the blanket until there were about eight layers of fabric there, and then went back around the right side of the bike and slowly leaned the bike over until the head was resting on the padded crate. I took my hands off, and everything remained in place – the whole amalgam looking for the world like a motorcycle that had decided to fall over and then had a crisis of motivation exactly halfway though. Trying hard not to giggle maniacally, I grabbed the rear tire, steadied the bike by grabbing the lift handle with my left hand, and slid the tire over the drive splines and into place on the hub with my right. I pulled the frame back upright off the crate and sat the bike back down on two nice newly rubbery contact patches.

Green Spring Dairy Work Stand

Please permit me about three and half minutes of feeling pretty smug.

The next five minutes had the rear axle reinstalled, torqued and pinched. I broke out my small rechargeable air compressor and set the proper pressure in both tires. The last five minutes saw the fuel tank put back in place, fastened with its bronze wing nuts, and fuel lines reconnected. I dropped the bike’s toolbox in place and replaced my German police saddle.

It was time to go find some dirt.




My initial response as I rolled out of the driveway was not overwhelmingly positive. The sensation the front tire gave off was one I can only describe as ‘clumsy’ – the steering effort was all off, and lean in and lean out wasn’t linear. At speeds under ten my operation style felt like it was drunk. Now I haven’t ridden on knobbies that I remember since a childhood Honda Trail 90 – the ones with the chunky upper frame bar – and funky low speed handling on pavement might just be a characteristic of riding on dirt purpose tires, but it was definitely different and something that would require some getting used to.

I rambled around my neighborhood, working the bike from side to side, and then stopped down by the park to check that nothing had fallen off or was in danger of doing so.  Having cleared that checklist I turned up the pike and headed for town.

As speeds rode, steering funkiness decreased. It didn’t leave entirely, but things got more normal with increasing velocity. Grace on the pavement wasn’t what I bought these tires for, though. What I’d bought them for was Furnace Mountain Road.

I rolled across the Route 15 Bridge across the Potomac, and hung my customary right into Lovettsville Road. But instead of gassing the bike hard and bombing up the next straight, I made an immediate left that cut straight into the side of the Mountain, that turned immediately to gravel and rose sharply up the face of the grade. I stood up low on the pegs, got my weight just ever so slightly forward, and gave the 900 cc boxer good throttle – blasting up Furnace Mountain Road.

Drive traction was not going to be an issue with the Scouts.

On the gas, using levels of immoderate throttle that previously would have resulted in hairball conditions I had only bite and deterministic and rapid forward motion. About three quarters of the way up the extended grade, I startled an enormous white new Ford F150 and its associated human, who was wrestling a bit with the surface and had probably left a bit less room on the narrow road than we both would have preferred.  With the /5 right in the meat of its torque band, and weight transferred pretty far forward with the shaft drive topped out, I cut hard toward the edge of the road, and with the bike on the gas, it went right where I told it. A half minute later we cleared the top of the grade, and flicked right into the hairball decreasing radius downhill bowl that sits just below the top. The front tire that had me scratching my head on the pavement was working here, brothers and sisters.

Furnace Mountain wanders from the bluffs over the Potomac southwest across the highlands, working in a series of dirt switchbacks – lovely conditions for getting familiar with constantly changing mixtures of acceleration, braking and cornering and a brand new traction model.  After four or five miles in the dirt, Furnace Mountain dumps out in the tiny village of Taylorstown, Virginia.  Taylorstown is tiny enough that there are only two choices for a road out of town, and one called Loyalty Road – which I remembered vaguely continued southwest towards Waterford – got the nod.

All tires actually need some break-in, and after a few miles, the Scouts were starting to show improvement in that process – a blast through the gears up Loyalty Road brought on a much smoother 65 mpg cruise and much more normal feeling cornering dynamics. As I worked my way to the top of the grade, an intersection came into view, with an older, off-road modified Toyota pickup sliding to a stop, visibly trailing dust.  As the street sign came into range, I finally made it out – ‘Featherbed Lane’.

I immediately clicked on my turnsignal and provided a demonstration of the effectiveness of properly adjusted drum brakes.

Within a half second of standing the bike back up again, I knew I’d made the right choice. A short straight led to a nineteenth century iron truss bridge — a type that’s fairly common close to my Maryland home but is somewhat scarcer in Northern Virginia.  The John G. Lewis Memorial Bridge was named for a local historian, and was actually relocated to this location after it was scheduled for demolition when its original location was being modernized. Here on Featherbed Lane though, the old iron truss made a perfect frame for the graded crushed limestone dual track that lead off towards the horizon.

I love old iron truss bridges – in my home Valley they’re usually constructed a fair height above the stream bed they’re crossing, in order to give them a fighting chance of surviving flood events which are perfectly normal in streams like these. For the motorcyclist, though, that height means some kind of steeply sloping ramp, which allows one to flirt with playing Knievel, coming off the top flying, unloading the suspension and then compressing it coming back down.   This temporary aviation is always a thrill, and serves to illustrate my BMW /5’s original engineering use case as an International Six Days Trial prototype competitor, designed to be tractable and predictable in truly unspeakable offroad conditions. Truth be told, BMW’s engineers had done a pretty transparent recycling of Mr. McCandliss’s frame design, so there was a kind of appropriateness for me on this old motorbike, off in search of dirt roads to ride, and serendipitously stumbling on Featherbed Lane.

Even if Sweet Doris from Baltimore did think it was a stupid name.

Catching my equilibrium after the short flight off the bridge deck, Featherbed was serving up long straight stretches with gentle corners as the road threaded the property lines of old and expansive horse farms – checking the satellite maps after my return home even showed a seemingly unused half mile horse racing track tucked unseen inside one of the larger back yards.

Featherbed Lane — See the Flat Track?

I might need to go back and see if I can divine their opinion of Flat Track Motorcycle Racing.

I thonked the /5 up into third gear, and managed to take on a nice 50 to 55 mph cruise – the bike’s long throw suspension working hard and in its element – I had better steering control in the crushed limestone surface than I was accustomed to, and I was getting enough drive traction to lighten the front wheel on the gas.

I’d been spending some of my time quarantined at home rewatching Bruce Brown’s ‘On Any Sunday’, and the mental picture that had most stuck with me was the aerial footage of Malcolm Smith – absolutely hauling ass across Baja, or the Barstow to Vegas desert, or the relative chaos of the Catalina Grand Prix – riding dead smooth, sitting down when anyone else would be standing up, and making every other motorcycle within a hundred miles look like it hadn’t even been started up yet.

If I could just be going another 50 miles an hour faster, I’d be nearly half the way to Malcolm.

Roads like Featherbed should go on forever – but for a road I’d happily stumbled upon – every bit of it was more than enough. I was able to cruise on this crushed limestone road for close to 10 miles – before it dumped me back out about 2 miles out of Lovettsville and the curves of the Berlin Pike back down to the Potomac.  The on-road gap between this bike and my /S had grown a bit – I found myself thinking that it might be time to retire the ‘S’ bars that I put on this motorcycle when it was being used as a faired sport tourer in favor of some dirty bike bars with a little more width and a little more rise.

I was back across the river and in the Valley before I was ready.  I had one more detour in my reverse GPS that I could take to keep from getting home too soon.

Not everybody has a great stream ford on their back yard. Sorry about that, everybody else.

Siegler Road cuts off from Fry Road – south of Jefferson – and pops up on Horine Road about a half mile from Shamieh’s Shop.  Siegler is about a mile and a half of gravel that climaxes at a local creek where a bridge seemed excessive. My old Avons used to skate a bit on the polished stones of the stream bottom – these Heidenaus seemed like they rode on octopus tentacle suckers – on wet stones they were absolutely nailed down.

Crossing the creek was so much fun and so undramatic it was the sort of thing one just wanted to do again and again.

I didn’t though – didn’t want any of my neighbors to think I’d finished cracking, riding back and forth roosting across a stream all day.

I popped around the corner, into my hood, and rolled up the driveway and onto the stand.

The Scouts, at least, had acquired enough rock dust and mud that no one would think that this was a motorcycle that didn’t get ridden.

Rock Dust and Knobs


Actually, based on the patterns of contact and wear that my body and boots have worn into 36 years of riding this motorcycle, nobody would ever even consider the possibility this bike didn’t get ridden.

After a few minutes admiring the form of this old motorcycle, I headed inside to look for some dirtbike bars.




I purchased my BMW R/75 motorcycle on an epic train-and-ride over an Independence Day Weekend in 1984. It seems to be a motorcycling story that has no end. Folks that want to catch up with the beginning of the tale can find it here.

Happy Independence Day, sisters and brothers. 

What To Do When…

One has to love the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at The University of Michigan.

Well, maybe one doesn’t have to, but I do.

It has been said, perhaps too many times, that BMW motorcycle riders are nerds.

I, myself, am perhaps unwittingly helping to perpetuate this stereotype.

You know the drill. The BMW motorcycle is the official commuting vehicle of tweed sportsjacketed college professors everywhere. The two wheeled equivalent of a Volvo. Not hairy chested or powerful enough to pull the skin off of a bowl of Jello Instant Pudding. The selected ride of Bow Tie wearing, coke bottle glasses-affecting Professor Frinks everywhere.

I mean, contemplate the BMW K75.

Or don’t.

Heck, many of my best friends in the motorcycle community have come through the Internet BMW Riders Club, who were collectively such Uber Nerds that they had figured out how to use the Internet to talk about bikes before most people even knew what the Internet freaking even was.  Physicists, Mathematicians, Deep Computer Science guys that had still had ArpaNet e-mail aliases – eleven-tenths nerd cred.

But then BMW made the S1000RR, and all that nerd shit went straight out the window.

No matter. So BMWs aren’t just for nerds any more.

Still, the aether continues to spit out evidence to the contrary.

Like, for example, the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at The University of Michigan.




Ever experienced vehicular synchronicity?

Vehicular synchronicity is an unfortunate condition where maintenance items across multiple vehicles come into a synchronous condition – the more vehicles one owns the more dangerous this can be.

Oil changes are concerning, but ultimately not that serious.

Registration renewals are a bit more serious.

Tires, on the other hand, punch right through the seriousnicity barrier. Tires are big ticket, big commitment, screw-it-up-and-you’ll-be-living-with-it-for-a-while, complicated logistics, preparation and installation items, and I saw from a long way back that a great many vehicles that I owned where coming into a perfect storm of alignment, mounting, balancing and disposal.  This might be a ‘first world problem’, but it was still a problem nonetheless.

Awareness of an impending problem does not necessarily render it any easier to deal with when it finally arrives.

Arrival was one set of all weather radials for my Ford station wagon. Many pictures of Benjamin Franklin wave and say goodbye.

My R90S needed a rear tire, that, due to the evil intervention of The Motor Gods, ended up requiring a total overhaul of the rear axle and wheel bearings and ended up taking more time than some complete motorcycle custom construction projects.  More Bens leave home to find their way in this mean old world.

My pickup truck raised its little aluminum A-arm. The tire on the end of that axel – factory original after 7 years and 45,000 miles – didn’t look quite as off road capable as it did at one time. After Sweet Doris from Baltimore had a drifting experience with the unloaded truck on a wet road, I was on the computer to my increasingly good friends at TireRack for four more donuts. At this point enough Ben Franklins had left my domicile to form a small All-Ben army unit.

Surely we were done now, right?

Most assuredly, we were not.

My R75/5 – which has spent most of its life recently trying to become a Yamaha DT-1, which is admittedly an odd aspiration for an old boxer – has been shod with a set of Avon Distanzias, a sort of meek road-biased dual sport tire that hasn’t been made for at least several few years. Mine – originally badass knobbyish appearing – now looked more like street bias tires for a Rambler American – skinny and nice and square.  Handling had been veering towards the evil end — aw heck, does buying tires by the dozen count as some sort of economic stimulus effort?

Truthfully, I’d never been that happy with the Distanzias – their appearance wrote a dirt check that the tire couldn’t actually cash. The Middletown Valley does have lots of dirt roads and easily accessible trails, and the tire was never that confidence inspiring once the bike stepped out – the front had barely more grip than a street tire. I’d had a set of Pirelli MT 60s on a Zero DS/R test bike and those tires, though nothing fancy, had way more grip on the crushed limestone of the Valley’s dirt roads. Given how this motorcycle was used, I resolved to find something that provided higher levels of grip and capability in the dirt when the time finally came, and now was apparently that time.

When you restrict a search to the 1973 original tire sizes, or very close to them, one doesn’t have a lot of options. 4.00 x 18 and 3.25 x 19s are not exactly a hot mover these days, even though there was a short window in time when that was essentially the standard. Continental – given their historic support for BMW motorcycles – had both the TKC 70s and TKC 80s in the sizes I needed. The TKC 70s were no better than the tires I had – in terms of offroad grip – and the user feedback on them was filled with tales of bizarre and borderline unsafe uneven front tire wear. The TKC 80s – if I was heading for Ushuaia would be great – were manly-man full on knobbies, and just excessive for my light duty use.  Metzler – again, a BMW loyal tire maker – didn’t make anything with off road intensions that fit. Avon’s replacement for the Distanzia – the Trailrider – was a 90/10 on road tire that had close metric equivalents – but again, was a traction zero out. Their Trekrider didn’t come in my size. I looked at lots of tires – Michelin Anakees, Pirellis, all manner of Shinkos, Mitas E07s, the new Dunlop Trailmax – and all of them weren’t available in classic sizes.

One manufacturer – Heidenau – seemed to be the ticket, however.

Heidenau is a German designer and manufacturer of motorcycle and scooter tires that only in the last several years started providing their tires to riders in the USA.  Their catalog is filled with offroad and dual sport tires for BMWs, Zundapps and NSU cycles and sidecar outfits. The rise of the Adventure Motorcycle – started by the BMW GS series – shone a bright light on Heidenau, whose claim to fame is the K60 Scout, a true 50/50 onroad/offroad tire. The Scout is available in classic motorcycle sizes, and can also be obtained in both cold weather and snow-rated variants, which starts to give you some insight into who is buying them and how they are getting used.

Online reviews were generally positive and informative. BMW guys had pictures of them mounted on other street-intended Airheads, and they fit and worked well. They might not be perfect, but they were a great deal better offroad than the tires I had, and several folks were effusive about their on pavement performance and treadwear. Guys that had been riding with them in The Great Outthere and had been forced to do roadside repairs observed that – as a result of a reinforced, bias ply carcass — dismounting them and mounting them manually with tire irons was a bit of a high effort wrestling match.

Thank the Moto Gods for Fredericktown Yamaha and their Coats 220 Tire Machine.

Their skills and records with having innertubes survive their efforts is better than mine, too.

At least, if it isn’t, they’re not telling me about it and are eating their mistakes.

We’d definitely be giving them a call.




So, you’d be well within your reader’s rights to ask, what in the Absolute Fuck does this have to do with the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at The University of Michigan?

Being as it been a while since I had to change a front tire on a drum-braked /5, I turned to the Googling Machine to see if my recollection of how to perform that task was anywhere close to how to actually do the task.

We are all hybrid-androids, now, Brothers and Sisters.

I entered my search string – “BMW R75/5 motorcycle how to change front tire” – and the aether provided this —

Have You Ever Had a Motorcycle Owners’ Manual That Actually Showed You How To Work On Your Bike?


The image is clearly of a page from the Owner’s Manual for the R75/5 – cutely titled “What To Do When…”  – with details on how to perform customary roadside repairs like tire repair and changing headlight and turn signal bulbs. Because I’d obtained my motorcycle second hand –  purchased as the result of its prior owner having died while exhibiting the rare bad taste of owing the State of New York substantial sums of tax money – niceties like the Owners Manual and the cute little BMW-labeled shop rag and stock toolkit shown in its photos had been understandably missing in action.  Heck, niceties be damned, basic items like the stock saddle and handlebar clamps had also been missing, but I digress.

I spent a few minutes poking around the website trying to find the entry point for the whole manual, and was eventually able to see the entire factory guide to how to live with the motorcycle I’d been living with for the past thirty six years. While I didn’t learn much, it did make me smile to see back into a time when the motorcycle’s manufacturer provided a serviceable toolkit with its motorcycle, and assumed not only that owners would use it, but that most of what might need to be done to that motorcycle could be done with only those tools.

I didn’t need that vintage black and white manual to tell me that, though. I’d learned that all on my own.

So, reverie levels abating, I found myself wondering, “Who are the Nerds that felt compelled to make a web site out of a 1973 BMW R75/5 Users’ Manual?”

I typed in the base URL into my browser — “www.eecs.umich.edu….”.


The Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at The University of Michigan.

BMW-riding, html-coding, Uber Nerds All.

Pass me my bow tie, Professor Frink.




Several days later, both the tires and the tubes arrived from points north and west.

Ooooh. Knobbish.

I spent some time to wash the bike and then more time with the degreaser and a ScotchBrite pad to get the wheels cleaned of the nice admixture of motor oil, gear oil and limestone dust that running the dirt roads hereabouts tend to create. I have some consideration for the tech that will help me with some work on my motorcycle and so won’t provide them with a bike or a part that they need to spend 15 minutes cleaning up in order to find the part requiring service underneath the filth.

There WAS a Motorcycle Under All That Granite Dust

I rolled the bike to the rear of the shop, and pulled the saddle and fuel tank to make manhandling what was left lighter and less error-prone while removing and reinstalling both wheels.

When One Dispenses With The Distractions, One Can Appreciate Just How Pretty That Motor Really Is

Here’s hoping that this time, the job takes less than two months per wheel.

Off The Road

Off The Road Blues

There are some bits of routine motorcycle maintenance which, at least theoretically, are associated with minimum mechanical risk and potential for drama.

These are the jobs you’ve done a hundred, or a thousand times – oil changes, tire changes – wrenching you could do in your sleep. In the dark. In the rain.

If, however, one is working on an original, unrestored 45 year old motorcycle, the No Drama Principle apparently expired about a decade and a half back.

My R90S is half tough on tires. This motorcycle simply vaporizes rear tires. The big bore 1000 cc motor delivers big, throbby power pulses to the rear contact patch, and, if one rides it like I tend to, with the right grip rotated most of the way around most of the time, that behavior tends to result in pretty diminished rear tire life.

On the flip side, the front tires last nearly forever because they spend so little time bearing any of the motorcycle’s weight.

Lose some, win some.

Losing this one, though, meant ordering up a new rear tire as my favorite Michelin Pilot Activ was doing a creditable impersonation of a racing slick.

My buds at Fredericktown Yamaha Triumph have helped me out with mounting motorcycle tires for years, which is pretty swell of them considering they don’t technically work on my brand of motorcycle. Since it seemed to me at the time we were all destined for some form of non-trivial commercial disruption – which, knowing what we know now, we were – I rang ‘em up and had them order me a tire, tube and while we were in there, a new rim strip.  The day before my stuff was supposed to arrive, I went out into the garage to pull the rear wheel from the bike.

For folks that haven’t had the pleasure of changing a drive wheel tire on an old BMW, all I can say is that when things go smoothly, it makes pulling the wheel from a chain drive bike look like the messy, finicky, dirty nightmare that it really is.

On the Beemer, one loosens the axle pinch nut, removes the bolt from the end of the axle, pulls the axle out of the wheel, and then pulls the wheel off the drive spine and off the bike. It’s fast, it’s neat, and it’s relatively idiot resistant.


During the construction of Teardrop Camper V 2.0,    the R90S had sat outside for about four months – four months during which it rained and rained and rained.

At the time, I had ventured the opinion that the R90S had survived that indignity with seemingly no impact.

That opinion was not correct.

When I went to pull the wheel, I removed the axle nut, loosened the pinch bolt, inserted the ‘tommy bar’ from the stock toolkit into the hole in the end of the axle, gave the customary twist, and the axle …. didn’t come out. I twisted a little harder, and it still didn’t come out. I applied some serious force, and the wheel walked off the drive splines…. but the axle still didn’t come out.

I know, sadly, from experience, when I am tiptoeing up to the threshold of doing something really boneheaded, so I elected to withdraw.

We are always stronger together, so I sought the advice of many wise and experienced people that I was pretty sure had been here before. With their information and less wisdom in my head, I at least had a good idea of how the whole bearing stack worked, and what I was likely going to have to replace to get it all back together.

I spent several days soaking things down in penetrating oils, heating things up with torches, whacking things with punches, including some things I actually wanted to be whacking… to absolutely no effect whatsoever.

On or about Wheel Gone Awry Hostage Crisis Day 10, I made exerted myself to remount the wheel on the drive splines and secured it in place with one of the carpenter’s clamps that is part of the Teardrop Construction Toolkit. A final circuit of penetrating oils, heat, and some whacking with a punch finally got the axle the remaining 30%  or so out of the wheel, and revealed what had been driving me nuts.

One of the jauntily named Top Hat spacers – the one on the side opposite the final drive – had rusted, and in that rusting, had essentially welded to the wheel bearing’s inner race. It had also corroded internally so that the clearance between it and the axle had been so reduced that it wouldn’t let the axle slide through it – when the axle finally came free it brought the spacer and the attached bearing roller cage with it.  One could also see where the spacer had been riding on the axle – which was visibly burned.

I used a propane torch to heat the wheel and then drove the rest of the bearing assembly out of the wheel hub.

Of the Beemer Yodas I had consulted, The One Tom Cutter’s advice had proved to be the most prescient – he’d told me to just take the reciprocating saw to the axle because “everything in the wheel was going to be trash anyway”.

Trash was clearly what we had. That saw would have saved about 10 days.

Pretty Sure That Didn’t Used to be Attached to That

Crap Bits. Like The Nice Burned Bit on the Axle?

The day before I started working on this bike, I’d briefly kissed one hundred miles an hour while out riding the S.

Clearly I ride with some form of celestial rider aide.

Before this bike would roll again, everything inside this wheel hub would need to be replaced.




I spent the normal hour or so looking for all the bits I would need, and whether I had any options as to where I could buy them. I needed a new axle, washer and nut, a bearing set, seals, gasket, inner and outer spacers, and both top hat outer spacers.

Ebay found me a vendor that majored in selling stock he’s purchased from dealers that were liquidated – he had a new axle, washer and nut for $79 – BMW NA price would be over $150. All Balls Racing has a kit with both bearings and all the seals for a fraction of dealer price. I’ve used their bearings before in the LT and was very happy with the product. The bearing sets BMW has in stock – clearly visible in their online catalog pictures — are offshored Asian-manufactured bearings, so are not worth the large cost differential they carry.

I did go to a trusted BMW dealer to get the spacers and gaskets that only they could provide.

Then, there was the small matter of the ‘wedding band’.

This older BMW wheel bearing stack design is about one thousand times stronger than is required for operation of a solo motorcycle.  German engineering has a reputation for being extremely robust and somewhat ingenious – these roller bearing wheel assemblies are an easily analyzed object lesson in engineering overkill.

The older BMW wheel bearing assemblies were originally designed with the massive side loads required for sidecar use in mind – but when the sidecar lugs disappeared from the frames of the first /5 motorcycles – this wheel bearing design stayed behind.  Two wheeled motorcycles have dramatically lower side loads on their wheel assemblies – cornering loads are converted largely to straight up and down, or ‘normal’ loads because of the lean of the motorcycle – the load always goes straight down through the center of the wheel and into the tire’s contact patch.

To manage the dramatically higher loads and side loads of the sidecar, though, BMW used precision tapered roller bearings in wheels where most other manufacturers use ball bearings. In order for these tapered roller bearings to provide durability in service, the spatial relationship between the moving components of the bearings need to be set to a defined preload, and BMW accomplishes this though an ingenious arrangement of an outer, fixed dimension spacer – that supports both bearings’ outer races – with an inner spacer whose dimension can be adjusted though the use of a circular insert that looks exactly like a wedding band, if our wedding bands were made of tool steel. The BMW parts catalog lists, I believe, thirteen different wedding bands all differing in thickness by .25 of a millimeter. For the home mechanic, this is a little inconvenient and ungainly, unless you think you are going to be doing a lot of these, and want to buy the entire set.  Personally, this is the first one I’ve done in 35 years and over 200,000 Airhead BMW miles, so that seems like a stretch.

Fortunately, there is Cycle Works, a classic and antique BMW motorcycle tool supplier. I’ve had several of their well-built custom tools – an alternator rotor puller, and a clutch centering arbor – in my tool roll for years, and this job was an opportunity to add another, along with one of their ingenious solutions. In order to set the preload on the bearing stack, one needs a precisely made spacer to replace the final drive on the axle. Cycle Works had figured out that thirteen wedding band sizes was another kind of overkill – two strategically selected bands and many thin shims were sufficient to obtain the full needed range of adjustment.  Another internet order was placed, and I and my cat set about waiting for the UPS man to come.




On the third day, the Cycle Works order showed up, and their spacer tool – used to set the preload on the bearing assembly – was the type of precise, robust and long lived toolmaking exhibited by the tools I had purchased from them 30+ years previously.

My BMW parts order – normally received in one or two days – was nowhere to be seen a week after the fact.

I made a call to my FNSLD*, and asked them what was up with my order. Under duress, they admitted that several of the parts I’d ordered were not stock items, and had needed to be ordered from Germany. It seems, rather reasonably in retrospect, that the internal wheel spacers I’d elected to shitcan in my wholesale replacement of everything that had been stressed by this failure, were so robustly built that no one had ever needed to replace one before, ever.

Best case was that they expected to receive my spacers from Germany in about 10 days, and then all would be right with the world.

Has anything you can think of been going best case, these days?

On the Twelfth Day, I phoned them again.

On this phone call, the dealer informed me that BMW’s North American parts warehouse had experienced an outbreak of The Disease, and had been closed for decontamination. The dealer anticipated that the warehouse would reopen the beginning of the following week, and that my backordered parts would arrive at their location a few days following.

Have you ever had a tire change drag on so long that you were starting to regret not having added fuel stabilizer to your gas tank before beginning?

I now apparently had.

On the Friday of the week following, my UPS man showed up with a small box. The box contained all of the spacers required to reassemble the bearing stack for my rear wheel.  Courtesy of Illinois BMW Rider Trig Haroldson and his instructional video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXj01hUKJBg – I now had as thorough an understanding of the BMW tapered wheel bearing stack as it is possible to have for a man that has never worked on them before. It took all of about 20 minutes to set up the bearing preload, and another 10 minutes to grease the bearings and reassemble the stack. I then wrapped the entire assembly in a one gallon Ziploc bag, and put in in my freezer overnight.


The next day, I took my trusty propane torch in hand, and set about heating the hub back up to the required 250 degrees f. I use a glass of water in place of fancy measuring gear – when a drop of water dropped onto the casting boils off on contact, it’s hot enough. I pulled the axle and bearing stack assembly out of the freezer, sat it in the wheel hub’s opening, and gave a single tap on the end with a hammer. The bearing stack dropped smartly right into its proper position. Thirty minutes of cooling off and simultaneously warming up later, the races were held firmly in place.

One has to love thermal expansion and contraction. Physics is your friend.

A few more moments of wrenching reattached the bearing retainer, its gasket, and inserted the top hat spacers and the external seals. I marked the wheel’s direction of rotation on a bit of painters tape, and hopped into the wagon to run the rim up to Fredericktown Yamaha.




The next morning, I got my call that the new mounted tire was ready to be picked up.  A few minutes’ drive, a few much needed minutes of moto-banter (at a socially acceptable distance, natch) with Ian Riley, Fredericktown’s GM, and a few more minutes’ drive and I was finally in position to put this motorcycle back on the road.

I spent a few minutes with the brake cleaning spray and some clean shoprags to make sure the brake drum surfaces and pads were free of any of the goo that might have resulted from my initial penetrating oil frenzy. Ian had related that the oddball setup of the airhead bearings and their captive asymmetrical spacers had confounded the shop’s spin balancer, which necessitated a few more minutes with my Harbor Freight static balancer, which is worth every one of the nineteen dollars that it cost.

Professional shops install BMW airhead tires with a motorcycle lift that has a removable rear platform section that allows the tire to be inserted from beneath and remounted on the bike’s final drive splines. Shamieh’s Shop uses a different method – thirty plus years ago Sweet Doris from Baltimore learned to hang wheels on the drive splines of a bike that I would lean over to the right and support while it rested on the main stand. My recently obtained wisdom to only use tires that are available in the stock 4.00 x 18 sizes have made that job so easy she looks like an endurance racing team pit pro – 4 seconds and she’s wrapped up and back over the wall.

My brand new lightly greased axle went back together more easily than any other tire change I can remember. Now armed with better knowledge of how these wheel and bearing assemblies work, I was careful not to overtorque the axle nut, and then cinched down the axle pinch bolt, and reinstalled the left side muffler that I’d dropped when things had started their decent towards the pearshaped. This was now, shockingly, a road worthy motorcycle.

Fresh Rubber

I moved the Slash 5 out of the way, and then rolled the S out into the driveway. I swung a leg over and pushed the bike down the driveway’s gentle slope – with the clutch pulled in, it rolled smoothly and easily down the hill. At the bottom, I stopped and rolled the bike back and forth, forwards and back. Since everything seemed to be nominal in unpowered mode, I put the bike up on the main stand, and went back inside to get my helmet, gloves and jacket.




There had been times – given the emotional and mental health stressors of the previous 6 weeks spent under quarantine – when I genuinely wondered whether my R90S would ever see the road again. I’d questioned whether parts would ever be obtained, having to come through an international supply chain that had been closed at least once for decontamination. I questioned whether the dealership where my tire, tube and rim strip were waiting for me would remain operational. I even questioned whether my health would remain unaffected so that my heirs wouldn’t inherit a do it yourself classic motorcycle kit after my demise (some assembly required).

I’d managed to persevere though all of that, though, and now the small hurdle was the same as it always way – had my own skills as a mechanic been sufficient, and had the job been completed correctly? A few yards of road would, as always, hold the answer.

I opened the petcocks, set the choke lever, and turned the key.  The S was a little down on battery – the last time I’d charged it to full had been a week or two back. The engine swung through five or six compression strokes before firing once and stalling. I waited another ten seconds or so, and then went for a second run at it, giving the engine the tiniest bit of throttle this time. On the third compression stroke – just before my doubts blossomed into full blown concern – the engine fired, then fired on the other cylinder, finally coming up to a lumpy idle.  I gave the engine throttle a few times, backed off to half choke, then no choke, and then gently revved the engine until there was enough heat in the system to allow a smooth idle and to take throttle off the bottom.  I toed the transmission down into first gear, gave it a little gas, and expressed tiny gratitude as the clutch bit and the bike moved smartly down my street.

I trolled around the streets of my neighborhood, short shifting between first and second gear a few times, gratified at what seemed to be a very smoothly rolling motorcycle. My neighborhood has a small park, and I stopped there briefly to visually inspect everything to make sure all the fasteners were still there and nothing was barfing any fluids – all was well.

It was the moment where knowledge would turn to understanding.

I gassed it, and turned right up the highway.




It didn’t take more than half a mile to know that this motorcycle and my work were good.

Tires that wear out affect handling far more than they affect traction. The new Pilot Ativ’s profile was absolutely round where the replaced one’s had been largely squared off. That square profile causes absolutely awful feeling stuff every time the tire drops to lean. And does it again when it comes back.

The new tire, though, with a perfect profile, was allowing me to lean and straighten up the motorcycle in a completely linear fashion. As I did the racer boy weave, gently working the tire back and forth to break it in, the handling ickies had been completely banished. The complete feeling of precision as the bike went onto the sides of the tire meant that the new bearings were set up at least well enough to fool me – there was no play in the rear suspension and nothing that felt like it wasn’t rotating freely.  There is something about a BMW motorcycle that is has been set up properly that makes it feel like the entire bike has been made out of a single piece of metal, and that feeling was back.




Technically, my reason for being out of my house didn’t comply with the Governor’s quarantine order – I wasn’t out for work, food or medicine. I’m not sure that ‘being in pursuit of understanding’ would have cut it with the trooper.

Fortunately, I did not get the opportunity to try that one.

It did feel better than I can explain, though, to be in the saddle of this old motorcycle, with the thrust of this motor pushing me forward, and the wind washing over my body.

I kept speeds, lean angles and throttle openings easy as we broke the tire in and my confidence in the service rose. One never wants to fall off and go to the hospital, but in the time of The Disease, that preference goes at least double.  I ran The Pike down into Knoxville, Mountain Road back up to MD 17, and then sat at the intersection, looking north and south and seeing absolutely no one else on the road. I was having a hard time adjusting to this present dystopia – the Disease had created a world where it was possible to imagine that there was only you – too many places I had been when on walkabout it had been only me.

I made the left to head up 17, back towards Burkittsville and back towards home. I got under the bubble and turned my left foot in towards the engine – a position that seems to increase the precision of my shifts – and took the bike up through the gears. About two thirds throttle and 6500 rpm seemed restrained enough to take the new rubber and new parts into account but enthusiastic enough to manage a few seconds of feeling free.

Banging through the 90-90s into Coatesville, and running the two decreasing radius right handers heading out were enough to convince me that all was right with the 58 inches of the world that lies between this bike’s two contact patches.

Now all we got to do is take tools in hand and fix what’s wrong with the rest of it.






* FNSLD — OK, If it is bugging you that much — Friendly Not So Local Dealer

All Caught Up

I finally finished all of my spring motorcycle maintenance tasks.

Which is, of course, why it’s snowing.

I’ll be the first to admit that BMWs do have perhaps more than their fair share of routine, preventative maintenance items, but there’s more to it than that.
For those that haven’t had the pleasure, here’s the short list – separate engine oil, transmission, driveshaft and final drive oil changes, fork oil (in older bikes) or shock rebuilds (on new ones), brake and ABS fluid flush and bleed, hydraulic clutch flush and bleed – and that’s before we get to the universal wear items like tires, brake pads, wheel bearings and batteries. If you are putting on a lot of miles, this list can start to seem like one of the Mobius pathways contained in an Escher drawing – one just gets to the end of the path when the beginning automatically rolls up again.

‘Oh MotoLord, Let Us Wrench…’

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I didn’t exactly have the smoothest path through this year, either. When Her Majesty, Elizabeth II of Great Britain, sends out a Christmas Card that alludes to having just come through ‘a bumpy year’, that is Stiff Upper Lip Speak for ‘whupped up on, thrown down, road rashed, sutured, plastered, tractioned and bruised’.

Yeah, my year was kind of like that.

After my ‘2019 Holiday Surprise’ – that saw me out of work for the first half of the year – the second half of the year was a mad scramble to get acclimated in a new job and get in the groove – a groove that included putting up to 500 motorcycle commuting miles on my LT every week. And try as I might, I was wearing things out faster than I could replace them.

After the aforementioned link to bolting on some new stuff, I followed up with a set of new front Carbone Lorraine sintered brake pads that made a substantial difference in braking power and feel. On the rubber front, when my front Avon Storm began wearing unevenly – as they, and other dual compound sport touring tires always seem to – which seemed to upset the bike’s straight line handling at elevated speeds, I tried a little bit of out of the box thinking, and mounted a Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT. The PR4 GT is a reinforced tire – like the Storm rear – and seems to be a favorite of other BMW LT/GT riders. I found the tire was a bit slower on turn-in and a bit more compliant than the Storm – ask me how I like it in about 4 or 5 more months, when it has a few thousand more miles on it.

The other neglected thing hanging out there was a flush and bleed of my brake and clutch circuits. Anyone that has ever hung out in a BMW dealership can relate how many different ways BMW attempts – through a series of ever–increasingly dire sounding ‘information’ posters – to make sure that their dealers get an annual brake service charge extraction from their owners. Given the relative fragility of the early ABS controller in my increasingly vintage-y motorcycle (It IS now 20 years old), I’ve taken the hint, although my acquisition of a MityVac 8L fluid extractor made me self-sufficient. The more crucial part of that process, though, was bleed of the hydraulic clutch. Because of the filthy dirty and stinking hot conditions under which the clutch slave cylinder needs to operate, the clutch fluid is more prone to contamination and breakdown that manifests itself in a spongy-feeling clutch. Neglect it for long enough, and you’ll eventually blow a slave cylinder seal that only takes about 10 hours of shop time to access. A few minutes with the MityVac, though, restored firm clutch feel and fingertip control – taking the bike on a test run up through the gears resulted in new bike levels of shift precision.

This sort of level of accomplishment always results in a false sense of security. Accordingly, on the first morning ride under 30 degrees F, the bike barely started and the ABS failed to arm, protesting with odd combos of flashing lights that were most alarming. The AGM battery I had in the bike was a no-name generic – likely designed for UPS duty, rather than starter duty. Not wanting to risk some form of low-voltage, over-current condition that might fry delicate electronics, I visited my good friends at BatteryOne in Frederick – I wonder if they might consider offering me a subscription service? – and picked up a Deka AGM motorcycle battery, which, in my experience, are the toughest, best performing motorcycle starting batteries made. A little research shows that these batteries – which are made by a family-owned company in Pennsylvania – are what Harley Davidson puts their sticker on and uses as the OEM battery in their big twins.

One installed, I reset the LT’s throttle position sensor, and the bike cranked over on a 28 degree afternoon like it was a sunny morning in July. Since then, I’ve been starting hard, running smooth and braking hard, and rolling up the miles towards this motorcycle’s first 100,000 miles on the odometer, which should occur in the next two weeks or so….

I’m proud to have completed this bike’s annual service in only 13 months or so of mostly interrupted sustained effort. Of course, looking at the maintenance log, it seems I need to schedule another engine oil change…

‘Oh, Moto-Lord, Let us Wrench…”

Soooo….You’d Like to Stop, Would You?

As a general rule, motorcycles need to have at least as much stopping power as they have motor. Better still, perhaps a little more.

As a guy that hot rodded a 900cc, lightened flywheel, ported and balanced boxer in a /5 with drum brakes, I know very well that of which I speak.

Experience like that contributes to my overall sensitivity about the operating condition of everything involving friction in the systems of my motorcycles.

I have been rolling up miles lately – blasting back and forth from Jefferson to my new gig in Baltimore – many miles of which are spent on cruise and at speed. For a motorcycle that had been spending an unfortunate percentage of time sitting, piling up miles has been good for the bike, and good for me, but has rolled forward the calendar on a whole rabid pack of snarling deferred maintenance items.

Item one to go was my Avon Storm rear tire. The Storms are dual compound tires, and can, under exactly the wrong conditions, develop a little angle from wear where the two compounds come together, and that subtle change of profile is not a force for good where it comes to handling and stability. When the Storms are new, they are nothing short of magic, but when they begin to wear unevenly, their handling goes off well before they run out of tread depth. The tire certainly didn’t owe me a thing, as the logs indicated it was closing in on 12,000 miles – which on that bike and given how I ride it is an enormous accomplishment. One trip to The Internet, one visit to my buds at Fredericktown Yamaha for a mount, and things on the handling front were much improved. They’ll probably see me again two weeks from now, at the rate the front tire is currently regressing.

The last third of my trip into the city frequently involves congested traffic – the office building garage where I work is an old type with frequent and steeply banked concrete ramps. Both conditions require far more use of rear brakes than is my normal practice. One a recent trip through the garage, something about the feedback from the rear brake coming off one of the ramps set off my very reliable biker intuition. I resolved to check the condition of the pads upon my return to the shop.

The position of the caliper on the K12LT is such – positioned inside the rim as it is – that without a lift or an inspection camera there is no way one can see the condition of the pads with it in place. Two big allen bolts, though, and it’s in one’s hand.

My Biker Intuition’s batting average is off the charts good.

Oh, PLENTY of pad left, here.

So it was back to The Internets for some brake pads.

I’ll admit I’d been plotting some form of additional braking performance upgrade for a while, anyway, and this was the kind of excuse for same that really isn’t negotiable – once again time to turn lemons into Delightful Lemony Cocktails.

Why an upgrade? K1200LT brakes have never been known as beasts – in fairness, 850 pounds of bike plus rider is a lot of mass to manage — they were likely the proximate cause for BMW to develop the power Evo brakes that folks either love or completely hate. My bike, as a result of an encounter with a well-intentioned BMW dealer who misunderstood what kind of rider I was, is equipped with a set of SBS Organic pads whose virtues include ‘being kind to one’s brake rotors’ and do not include generating as much friction as the bike’s brakes are capable of. More than a few times in the life of these pads I have had to deploy them in anger only to be passed by a cloud of white, acrid smoke upon slowing which was the combusted byproducts of my former ‘kind brake pads’. It was the kind of experience which reinforces my Road-grimed Astronaut view of the LT as some form of mutant Space Shuttle – making harsh sounds and toxic gasses upon reentry.

Testing and writing about new motorcycles has provided a few examples of braking systems which represent two decades or so of additional technological development. And such bikes – including ones with comparable or even more mass – like the Gold Wing  (around 20 pounds less) and The Indian Roadmaster (around 80 pounds more!) – had more apparent braking power than my LT as it was currently equipped.

On this go-around, we were going to find the most powerful friction rating brake pads that were available for this motorcycle. If we were going to be smoking on re-entry, it was going to be where the contact patches hit the pavement, not by converting pads into ineffective smoke inside the calipers.

Consensus among the Internet BMW Enthusiast types was that the best ones available came from a French outfit called Carbone Lorraine – their street cred was bolstered by being a supplier to several MotoGP teams, so they clearly know a little about generating buttloads of braking force. One quick visit to my longtime buds at Beemer Boneyard, and some new sintered goodness was almost instantly inbound.

The day after they were ordered, the afternoon USPS tracking showed them delivered to the Post Office in Jefferson, for delivery the next morning. After work that evening, I went out to the garage, pulled the caliper and removed the cotters and slide pins. One of the cotters was partially seized, and required the judicious application of and hammer and punch to free everything up. I used some compressed air and dishwashing soap to clean up the pistons before pushing them back with my fingers – Brembo calipers are somewhat infamous for the incompatibility of their critical rubber seals to any and all kinds of commercial spray brake cleaners. I cleaned the brake rotor with copious amounts of rubbing alcohol and a towel. I dressed the slide pins by taking some fine garnet sandpaper to them to remove the residue, cleaned them off with brake cleaner, and then applied a very fine coating of moly grease to them. I propped the caliper up on a work stool, and awaited the arrival of the postman the next day.

Yeah, nothing.

The next afternoon, after inspecting and appreciating my three new sets of CL brake pads, I headed back to the shop, slid the new pads into place, inserted the slide pins and cotters through the pad and dust cover, slid the caliper over the disk, and torqued the two allen bolts back into place. I checked the level of brake fluid in the reservoir – just a hair under full – perfect. Total elapsed time – about seven minutes. I wasn’t yet at endurance racing pit crew levels of performance, but more practice was inbound.

In a checkride around the neighborhood response was as soft and unresponsive as one would expect a set of not yet bedded-in brake pads to be. All I really cared about was that the system was working properly, and that the pistons were retracting after application – a proper bedding in would have to wait for tomorrow’s ride to work.

The next morning was one of those mornings where the ride is so nice one considers going right by the office – a clear blue cloudless sky, temperature in the low 70s and low to no humidity. Coming down Roundtree Road in Jefferson I was all by myself, and got the opportunity to get the bike up just under 60 three times, and brake with just the rear brakes down to just below 40. By the time I reached the stop sign at Roundtree and Lander, rear brake response was much improved – this was going to be just fine.

Normally, on the stretch of I-70 between Frederick and Baltimore, I don’t get much in the way of traffic alone time. This morning, though, I found myself running solo between two large traffic clots – one well out behind, and one way out ahead. I’ve found this can be an effect produced by maintaining one’s speed without regard to that of surrounding traffic – play your own game and you’ll often find yourself out alone.

If one is looking for the optimum place to bed in some brake pads, a nearly empty interstate and a speedo that reads a tick over 80 is pretty much exactly what you want. I got out of the gas and braked the LT hard — on only the rear brake – until road speed was under 50 and still falling. I gently got back in the throttle, and then did it again. I still had my alone spot, so I did it again.

By the time I found myself working the back brake coming off the ramps in the parking garage, the back brake was working as well as that of any bike I’ve ever had. These CL pads get two elkskin gloved thumbs up.

I’ve already had to order a new front tire – after 7000 miles the front Storm is doing the same oddball wear thing the rear was doing. I’m conducting a little experiment – pairing the rear Storm with a front Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT – a heavy carcass dual compound Sport Touring tire. Both tire designs have very similar construction and the PR front is the correct service rating. I’m not the first guy to try this, and those that have report good results – better straight line stability with no scary handling side effects.

When the wheel is off we’ll upgrade the front calipers to the pair of CL sintered pads that are sitting next to my computer. I’m looking forward to having some ‘stops like stink’ to accompany my formidable go power.

More Stopping to Come

The Scoop

140 foot-pounds on a dry lake bed could be a handful

Several months ago, I was involved in an online discussion on the subject of Zero Motorcycle’s new SR/F electric motorcycle. For reasons that I had a difficult time understanding, all of the new model coverage in the media omitted the most significant technical feature of the new motorcycle.

Being me, I said exactly that.

One individual immediately agreed with that opinion.

That most significant technical feature was Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) – and the implementation of it on the Zero was the first one to come to market applying this state of the art suite of electronic rider aids to an electric motorcycle.

The guy that had agreed with me turned out to be Justin Magri – A Technical Project Manager that works for Bosch, and a guy that had worked on the MSC Integration Project with Zero.

After a few traded e-mails and a phone call or two, I knew I had a story that needed to be told.

Insanely Short MSC Cycle Times are clear to see – look at the traces in the gravel

Justin engaged and got the blessing of Bosch’s PR and Marketing Departments. I made a few calls over to Zero – who’d worked with me previously on a review of their DS/R Motorcycle.

Everybody signed up, everybody wanted their story told, and so I did what writers do, which is talk to people and try to get right to the bone of the story.

Only I didn’t.

With all of the significant distractions I had going on in my life, my first cut at the story frankly missed the mark. From this point the whole tale gets as hairy as a full throttleZero with no MSC running on fine beach sand. Shopping a reworked story around, it was accepted by a prestigious motorcycle print publication. I was ecstatic for about three seconds which promptly ended when said print publication promptly ceased publication.

Good Timing has never been my thing.

A couple of earth/sky/earth/sky/earth/sky post motorcycle crash tumbles later, the story found a home at Revzilla’s Common Tread.

Click here to read the story.

I hope you enjoy and learn as much reading it as I did writing it.

Pickup Trucks

If you’re a serious, committed motorcycle rider, the odds are more than passing good you’ve also got some kind of pickup truck.

At the most basic, owning a motorcycle, at least historically, meant that sooner or later, you would need to transport one that was unable or unsafe to move under its own power.

A 10 foot length of 2×10, a 1967 Ford F-100 Camper Special, and a set of Harbor Freight ratcheting tie downs will allow you to transport any immobile motorcycle – whether barn picked, suffering from some form of Italo-English Unsolved Electromechanical Mystery, flat tired or having been subjected to a round of non-scientific random corn sampling.  Roll it up, tie it down, and Bob’s Yer Uncle.

So that simple thing is how it starts. Once you’ve got that pickup truck, though, work materializes out of thin air for it about which you’d formerly not had a single clue. There are friends that are moving, stuff which must be dumped, lawnmowers and bicycles with places to go, trailers that need trailing, and inconceivable volumes of lumber and plumbing fixtures and nearly the entire Freaking Home Depot. And that doesn’t even count a half million motorcycle swap meets, beds full of frames, wheels and motors, transmissions that require ministration, 27 crates that once were, might have been, or could again be Norton Commandos, or your buddy Chet that’s ‘decided to go racing’.

So yeah, I’ve got a pickup truck. You’ve no grounds on which to feign surprise.

I have a lot of unfashionable opinions.  One of them is that a pickup truck is a tool. Tools do not have leather interiors, Rockford Fosgate Subwoofer 12 Speaker Stereos, DVD Players, Streaming Audio, WiFi or SatNav on a 15 inch dash mounted tablet.  Tools have stamped steel interiors, and if they start when I turn the key, have a heater that works and windows that open, that’s going to be just fine by me.

My tool is a 2013 Ram 1500 2WD Extra Cab Tradesman. When the regular 1500 model was awash in silliness like a V-6 engine with autostart, fully air adjustable suspension and a raft of equipment that was unnecessarily complex and likely to be expensive and needy to maintain, Ram’s Tradesman Model came with a small block 4.7L OHC V-8, heavy duty metal springs all round, and a factory tow/haul package complete with receiver and brake controller.  It also has plastic trim on the doortops where a plusher truck has a padded place to hang your arm out the driver’s window.

No matter. We’ll take it.

Business travel, recently, had me spending a week down in Plano, Texas. Texas is large enough to think of as a Nation, and The Nation Of Texas is big enough to have three National Vehicles. The first is the Chevrolet Corvette. The Second is the Chevrolet/GMC Suburban. And the Third is The White Work Pickup (Brand Not Material).  Driving around the Greater Dallas Metroplex, where I was not enjoying their unavoidable network of expensive toll highways, and not enjoying even more my rented Hyundai Accent, I could not help but be struck by three things. The first thing was that said toll roads seemed to be in a perpetual and significant state of constant demolition/reconstruction.  The second thing was the army of people effecting said demolition/construction had an army’s worth of the above noted White Work Pickup (Brand Not Material). And the third thing was that these myriad White Work Trucks were all as filthy as any all-white vehicle can possibly be – so filthy, in fack, that they resembled two tone paintjobs – white from the beltline to the roof, and sand colored from the beltline to the rockers.

The never ending parade of these 50% Filthy White Pickups awakened in me an enormous sense of guilt for the mistreatment of my pickup.  My pickup, which is more frequently known as Sweet Doris From Baltimore’s pickup (long story), likely had not been washed since before the beginning of the Teardrop V 2.0 Construction Project.  My pickup, which was well on the way to joining the brotherhood of 50% Filthies. Were I to survive my sojourn in The Nation Of Texas – whose only directly observed positive qualities were The Hard Eight Pit Barbeque and Deep Ellum Brewing – I resolved to make things right by my truck.

Of course, upon my return home from TNOT, mother nature decided to tow Texas climate home to my place – on the appointed day, it was about 98 degrees f with low humidity and unbroken sunshine – perfect weather for hard exertion scrubbing about 500 square feet of sheet metal.    Perfect, anyway, so long as one has a garden hose in one’s hand and isn’t afraid to spend as much timing hosing oneself as hosing the pickup.  So I grabbed myself a liter insulated water bottle, my handy orange Homer Homeowner 5 gallon bucket, a gallon of Turtle Wax auto soap, a six foot handled car washing brush, and went to town.

After about the third full liter of drinking water, and the 8th or 9th time I’d taken the hose to my whole upper body, I’ll admit I did question my emotional decision to minister to my pickup in this way. Two more liters and 7 drenchings later, though, the good and considerate thing that I had done lifted both my truck’s spirits and my own. The Ram’s white sheet metal was blinding white in the sun – she was standing prouder, too – it seemed like she’d picked up a full 2 or 3 inches of additional ground clearance. Then again, maybe this was just heatstroke working on an overactive imagination, but no matter.   After a 15 minute drive around the block – with the A/C Blasting on Full – to air-dry the Ram, my truck-filth-induced guilt was reduced back to background levels.

No Truck Belonging to Sweet Doris From Baltimore is going to look like some Texas Work Truck

It’s a good thing that this small neurosis doesn’t seem to apply to motorcycles. Still, the LT is looking a bit grubby, now that I think on it.

… and Dirt Under The Fingernails

Having one motorcycle away in someone else’s shop and another one in grimy bits all over the shop floor is just mentally destabilizing enough for me to render me certifiably insane.

Now under normal circumstances, I probably hover just underneath the threshold of being certifiable — think of it as ‘unofficially and tending towards insane’ — but having two of my three motorcycles rendered simultaneously non-functional is just enough to push the mental tach needle into the red zone.

These little technical challenges find me nervously and compulsively surfing motorcycle parts sites and Ebay, making useless trips into the garage to look at the patient and then return to the office shaking my head, and pulling out my old Clymer manual — which is now essentially an unbound collection of formerly bound pages — to check my memory of long mastered clearances and torque values.

Until all of my alloy mistresses are back together and returned to function, my sleep is fitful and hard to come by — serenity is nowhere to be found.




After more than a few days of waiting for George Mangicaro’s phone call, the phone finally rang. The next day Sweet Doris from Baltimore and I hopped in our Ford and rolled down the 60 plus miles of country road between us and George’s shop, Gridlock Motors.

Upon arrival at the shop, Darkside was sitting outside, minus the lower fairings I’d removed to get them out of the way before my abortive attempt at repairing the broken exhaust stud.

At the shop counter, George produced the other, more troublesome bit of the stud that had proved too much for my skills.

A Troublesome Stud (or what’s left of it)

“Yeah, this really turned into a pain to get out of there — we resorted to a Dremel mini-grinder to get the broken EZ-out broken up, and then had to use heat and drill clear through the other side of the stud to get enough purchase to remove it. You’d have never been able to get it out of there – it was welded in place and chewed up the threads coming out. I ended up having to Dremel away a bit of the bolt hole shoulder, and then put in a TimeSert thread repair insert — it will be plenty strong.

By the way — how long has your rear main seal been leaking?”

“Since 2011. Once I saw moisture show up at the back edge of the bell housing, I drilled the drain hole in the bottom of the case. I’ve never had a lick of problem with it since.”

“That’s funny. I’ll tell customers once they start leaking, they might get ten minutes out of it, and they might get ten years. Once I saw the drain hole, I wondered if I’d worked on this bike before – I didn’t think anyone else knew that trick.”

“All the older BMWs had an opening at the bottom of the bell housing to let any leaked oil escape. They didn’t really change the design of the rear main but they left out the drain. I just put back what they left out.”

George’s bill was more than reasonable – a little over 4 hours labor to remove and replace the exhaust system, remove and repair the failed stud, and to install the other seven studs and the new oxygen sensor I’d supplied. The parts bill for eight new style studs, new style stud nuts and the copper exhaust seals was less than $50.

“You know,” George told me, “it probably wasn’t your fault, pushing a cold engine too hard, that this stud failed. Notice that the new stud lengths are shorter than the original parts, and that the nuts are also smaller and lighter. BMW’s computer modelling software found that the old type longer studs and heavier bolts – would actually oscillate at high rpms. If it went on for long enough, eventually that oscillation would snap the studs in half, and that’s what happened to yours. The new ones will not do that.”

For a guy that had been feeling more than a little embarrassed, along with a few hundred bucks poorer, I felt a little better knowing that.

I pulled my ‘Stich, elkskin gauntlets and Shoei on, threw a leg over Darkside and chased Sweet D, who had left after dropping me off, back north towards Jefferson.




Back out on US15, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new Denso oxygen sensor had made a noticeable difference in both operating smoothness and throttle response. I was fairly gentle and measured in taking the bike through warm up — especially given the new thread repair. My experience with this bike is that the entire driveline doesn’t really reach full thermal equilibrium — with motor oil, gearbox oil, coolant and final drive oils at constant temperature – for nearly 100 miles. Traffic conditions, on a mid-afternoon in Faquier and Loudoun counties of Virginia, on a workday, aren’t really amenable to any kind of elevated pace anyway, so I tried to focus on maintaining some buffer from surrounding traffic, and just keeping things smooth and unstressed.

About 40 miles out of Opal, a few miles north of Haymarket and I-66, though, I got a look around the two tractor-trailer units I’d fallen in behind and saw broken yellow lines in my lane and at least 3/4th of a mile of open highway.

Failing to succumb to temptation has never been a problem I have.

Darkside had been loafing along at about 3400 rpm in fourth gear — I thumbed the turn signal, rolled the throttle wide open, pushed on the right grip and hit the passing beam switch twice. In less than a second, I was clear of the first tractor-trailer, and bathed in the Flying Brick’s signature intake shriek which was rising in intensity as the torque and acceleration continued to rise. I stayed in the throttle through the next second which saw me clearing the second truck. When the cab was a safe enough distance behind I gently began giving back some throttle and initiated a smooth roll back into my lane. As I shifted up into top gear I checked the speedo, which showed a speed well over the ton and a rate of acceleration that was only now gradually slowing. By my math a 55-110 split in about 3 seconds flat.

‘Sedate touring motorcycle’ my fuzzy Irish-Arab ass. Does anyone wonder why I love this motorcycle?




Back at the shop, I dropped both the motor oil and gearbox oil from their cases. Reviews of my maintenance logs showed that, as a result of time spent on the teardrop construction project  and the parade of OEM test bikes last year, that I’d only put a paltry 1500 miles on Darkside over more than 16 months since the last oil change. My logs showed motor oil that had aged out rather than failed on mileage.

My shame knows no bounds.

I completed the oil and gearbox service — changing the gearbox to a Valvoline 75-90 SynPower – and spent a few minutes replacing the lower fairings and bellypan.

During the road test the gearbox was shifting much better than the aged out conventional gear oil had permitted – shifts were faster, more positive.

I suspect that my near term working life will require me to be a great deal more mobile than my prior gig, which placed a premium on chaining me to my home office desk. At 19 years old and 95,000 miles on the clocks, this Flying Brick is ready to take me absolutely anywhere.




Now we were two up, one to go.

My replacement seal for the leaking ignition cam and the points, seal puller and replacement allen head hardware had arrived, so it was time to dive back in to getting the /5 back together.

I set up out in the garage and discovered the seal that had failed was actually loose in the seal bore – poking at it tentatively with one of my dental picks had it rocking visibly. Heat and time, it seems, had caused the material to shrink to the point where it was no longer effective. Even without heating the cases, the new Lisle Seal puller had the old seal in my hand in a flash.

When I went to clean up the points plate in preparation to reinstall it, though, it quickly became clear I had another problem.

My two airhead BMWs run a weirdo ignition setup that was a transitional technology between points and a full electronic ignition — the Dyna Ignition Booster. The Dyna setup is almost identical to their aftermarket electronic ignition except for one small detail. Where the full electronic units use a Hall Effect sensor to trigger the spark, the Boosters use the original points to trigger it. These units — which were common when these bikes weren’t museum pieces — have two benefits. The first is that the Hall Effect sensors are the most failure prone component of their electronic systems. The second is that in the event of a failure, the bike can easily be returned to stock points operation with the swap of two wires. Between my two airheads, these systems have provided hot, reliable spark for over 200,000 miles.

The negative, is there is one, is that some of the oddball characteristics of the stock points systems are also retained – such as the mechanical advance unit and the points timing plate. And with the timing plate in my hand, it was clear that this one was no longer serviceable in its current condition. BWM had, since dinosaurs ruled the earth, placed a small felt pad on a steel spring on the timing plate whose job it was to manage the delivery of an appropriate amount of ignition cam grease to the ignition cam. This one, it seems, had shuffled off its mortal coil. The spring was still there, but the business end of the felt pad was nowhere to be seen.

We Don’t Need No Steenking Ignition Cam Lubrication Felt…Oh, Wait, we do, actually.

And of course, brief research finds that no dealer or aftermarket supplier, US or European can supply either a complete points plate or the felt wiper. The Studs on Adventure Rider have, of course, found sources for just the raw felt for industrial applications, like knitting machines, and cut some to fit and riveted in place. The wrong felt though, at 6000 rpm, could do quite a bit of damage, so that wasn’t my first choice. I checked eBay, but the few available were either mad spendy — I am unemployed, remember — or in just as bad shape as the one I had.

The wipers for the older /2s are, of course, still available, so I spent a few hours trading e-mails with the estimable Craig Vechorik at Bench Mark Works – a Vintage BMW supply and restoration specialist – who pulled and measured one for me, but it was too wide to fit without further modification — in stock form it would foul the mechanical advance unit in the /5.

At the point where my anxiety was starting to creep up, fellow sufferer Al Browne took another look at eBay, and found a bike breaker in Wisconsin who had literally just listed one. It looked like it had only been on the road for 10-20,000 miles, tops, and was reasonably priced.

Thanks Al.

I jumped at it.

Three days later, the postman showed up, and I was back in the shop.

I cleaned up the new plate, greased up the felt, and reassembled the ignition system. I gapped the points — which, I gotta say, is a lot harder to see at my current state of chronological giftedness than it was as a 25 year old pup — and went to time the engine.

My first shot was nowhere close. Closing the gap from the .016 inch I had initially selected to a middle of spec .014 retarded things to closer to spec but the engine was still too far advanced. Closing down to .013 had me 2-3 degrees overadvanced but the timing plate was out of adjustment range – I couldn’t retard the timing any further. This isn’t an unknown problem – the original German-made Bosch points are NLA. The best repros are made by a German company named Noris, and their rubbing blocks are known to be a few fractions of a millimeter too large, which causes the timing to be too advanced.

After a suitable ThinkThinkThinkPooh, I pulled the plate and points back out of the bike and chucked it up in the vice on my workbench. I grabbed my cheap Dremel knock-off and the smallest diamond abrasive point, and went after the two slots in the plate which permit timing adjustment. Using this micro-grinder, I lengthened the timing slots from 4mm to roughly 5.5 mm, and then cleaned the parts off and reinstalled them. Upon restarting the bike, the timing was bang on.

(Break arm patting self on back)

I disconnected the battery negative lead, replaced the front engine cover, and torqued the cover fasteners, tightened the bronze tank retaining wingnuts, made sure the fuel lines were securely installed, and then reconnected the battery.

I trolled the bike around the block to warm it up, but the funky behavior on trailing throttle was still present, so I grabbed a 10mm box end wrench, my favorite Husky carbon steel miniature flat blade screwdriver, and prepared to perform the time-honored airhead carb synchronization ritual.

I loosened the throttle cable locknuts, and backed them off until there was freeplay at both ends. Then I started the bike and adjusted the carb butterfly stops until we had some semblance of an even idle. Then I lay down on the ground and engaged the idle air mixture screws, which I first closed, and then opened to about 1/2 turn. As I cleared 1/2 turn, the idle speed rose dramatically, so I had to back off the idle stop screw and then take another pass at the mixture screw. Clearly, for some reason I can’t fathom, the air mixture settings must have been way, way off. After 2-3 iterative passes on both Bings, I finally located the optimum air mixture setting and was able to fine tune the idle stop screws.

I gave the bike throttle from idle a few times – pickup was smooth and even. Letting go of the throttle I stood there and wondered at a perfect Putt-Putt-Putt-Putt-Putt 1000 rpm idle. I turned the bike off and locked the cable adjuster nuts down.

You have to love a motorcycle that can be tuned entirely by ear with a small flatblade screwdriver.

I went inside to grab my gear, leathered up and headed for Poffenberger Road.




Poffenberger Road is one of The Valley’s most notable unpaved roads, and home to several of the founding members of our ‘Friends of Rural Roads’ – http://www.ruralroadsfrederickmd.org/. Poffenberger follows Catoctin Creek for several miles and is the fastest way to get back to our slower history here in Frederick County. Ask why my /5 wears semi-knobby tires and Poffenberger Road is why. If my family must leave this place some day, this road is one of the few things I will absolutely miss.

Upon turning onto Poffenberger, it was clear that the county road crew had just been here for their spring visit — the road had a fresh layer of crushed limestone that had just been graded. The Flat Track racers that come to the Frederick Fairgrounds every Fourth of July for the Barbara Fritchie Classic would likely kill for a soft, tractable racing surface exactly like this.

This perfect dirt surface is the pass/fail test for carb sync on this big twin. Having started life as a 750cc engine, its 900cc cylinder barrels, combined with the small valves of the original 750cc heads, make for a low rpm-biased motor that is happiest in the dirt. I built this bike to be a true scrambler before ‘Scrambling’ was a thing.

Today, post screwdriver alchemy, all is right with this motorcycle and the world. Power is stong and even right off the bottom, and at 4000 rpm the engine is as smooth as its 4 cylinder cousin. I can pick my slides with the throttle, and back into corners off the gas. I run out of dirt – first on Poffenberger, then on Harley and Bennie’s Hill – long before I run out of desire to ride.




So now, there are three motorcycles in the garage, and three that are ready to ride anywhere. Many other things in my life might be presently out of balance, but I can take some small solace, satisfaction and fulfillment in my ability to take tools in hand and render machinery fully and properly operational (with certain previously noted exceptions).

If, in future, though, you happen to overhear me planning to take a year off from maintaining my machinery to pursue some other enthusiasm, please smack me about a bit until I recall the conservation of wrenching, and that there is inevitably a reconciliation that involves the completion of all the routine work that one incorrectly thought you had put off.

Sure, there are some small things that remain to be done. Both airheads need their gearbox oil changed but on naked or almost naked motorcycles, that operation is about a 20 minute job that involves the removal and replacement of two bolts. And after the little improvisation with elongating the adjustment slots on the /5’s timing plate, I think that making the same modification on the S’s timing plate is likely in order — that motorcycle is carrying perhaps 2 degrees of additional advance which helps under wide open throttle, but can be observed as some reduction in low-end torque and smoothness at steady rpms.

None of that is critical though — all of it can wait.

What the spirit needs most right now, though, is the quiet inside my helmet and in my soul that only a few hundred miles of a sunny day ride can provide.

Dirty Hands

I’ve got old motorcycles, so I fix stuff.

Now I’m lucky (I Think) that these old motorcycles are BMWs, and can sometimes go for long periods of time without requiring much in the way of sacramental ministrations from me.

But no machine made by the hand of man is perfect. BMW Motorcycles certainly are not. So in a garage where the average age of a motorcycle is currently 36 years, stuff is going to break.




I’ve talked about how — after skipping my normal warmup process and pushing my Flying Brick motor too hard and far too fast — I’d come back into the garage to discover two thirds of a newly liberated exhaust manifold stud.

I’d hoped to have an independent BMW mechanic buddy of mine attend to the failure, but his circumstances seemed to keep his attention distracted by a whole passel of other things. He’d gone miles out of his way to convince me I could affect the repair, and after a while, despite my candid mechanics self appraisal, I began to believe I could do it, too. My recent change in economic circumstances made me susceptible to arguments to frugality, as well. So I headed down to my local Harbor Freight, bought a set of reverse drill bits, a set of extractors, and some industrial grade penetrating oil, and set about the fix, man.

Let it be noted, that any story that begins with the phase “So I headed down to my local Harbor Freight…” has already formally set the stage for tragedy.

So noted.

I pulled the lower belly pan from the left side of the LT, and eyeballed the broken stud. It turned out to be the number 1, frontmost cylinder, in the farthest forward position. Of all the studs, it has the best access from directly below, not being fouled by exhaust headers, stands or any other stuff.

I laid down a few layers of heavy mover’s blanket down on the garage floor, got my drill and my LED worklight and dove in.

I got one of Grandpa Wadi’s mechanic’s punches, and nicely centerpunched the broken stud end. I got my reverse drill bits, chucked a fine one up in my Bosch 12v drill — a very precise, small, light tool — and executed a nicely straight hole right into the middle of the stud. I took the next size up, then the one the size after that and enlarged the initial pilot. I then hosed the whole operation down with the penetrating oil, and left the job for the next afternoon. For a bit of delicate work — especially considering the exhaust was still in place – this was going pretty smoothly.

The next day I resoaked the stud in pentetrant, and after leaving it soak for a few, took an extractor, threaded it into my pilot hole, and immediately became that guy — Bang! the extractor tip sheared cleanly off.

Please supply your favorite stong oath of any culture here.

After some deep and embarrassed thought, I called George Mangicaro at his shop – Gridlock Motors – and confessed my manifold sins and inadequacies, and begged for mercy. Or if he couldn’t supply mercy, at least better tooling and equipment to unmess the mess I’d helped make worse.

I pulled the rest of the belly pan so George wouldn’t have to deal with that. While the lower bodywork was stripped, I installed a set of new spark plugs since access was now trivial. Plug readings on the ones that were removed indicated that inside that precious engine, all was operating optimally.

Looks like the textbook illustration marked ‘perfect’ in the tuner’s guide.

I had a nice ride taking the LT down to Warrenton. The Brick’s smoothness and ability to deliver big torque at highway speeds never gets old.

Here’s hoping George’s better preparation, training and skill translate directly into better luck.




The R90S continues just to be a stone. After a recent ride, I finally seized the opportunity to get some clean oil into the old girl after the drowning she took last summer while the big teardrop build was going on. In a good half hour I changed the oil and filter and she ran noticeably quieter and more smoothly with motor oil having lower water content in the cases.

Case closed, your honor.

So with one motorcycle fully ready to ride, I went to the back of the garage and set my sights on the /5. The poor old thing had been running poorly. For a bike that I’ve ridden since the early 80s, and which has 180K or so showing on the clocks, running like crap was something the bike has never really done, so my attention was fully engaged. I assumed that being thoroughly drowned in four or five months of Maryland Monsoon, combined with a little benign neglect, had produced this unfortunate turn of events.

It would turn out to having nothing to do with that at all.

I undid the two bronze wingnuts that secure the rear of the bike’s fuel tank, then popped it off and sat it in the tank saddle fixture I have on my workbench. One has to love a motorcycle that can have its fuel tank removed in under three minutes.

I pulled the left carb intake tube, then the left airbox cover. There was a very old K&N reusable gauze filter installed, which, given my recent education in their usefulness as filters, was removed and unceremoniously binned in the shop trash. I threw out with it two fairly good size mud dauber wasp tubes that had also been in the airbox. I used my LED micro flashlight to look into the right side intake, just to make sure that there were no other oddball foreign objects sitting in the carb’s intake venturi. There’s weren’t, so I dropped a stock air filter in the housing, and buttoned everything on the intake side back up.

I disconnected the battery’s negative lead, and then prepared to pull the front engine cover. With my 3/8 ratchet and allen head bit the three bolts that secure the cover were out promptly, and then I pulled the engine cover free from the rubber seal that secures the tach drive in place. Immediately, it was clear that something was not quite right.

As soon as the cover tilted away from the case, oil began pouring out onto the exhaust crossover. I am, you may have observed, somewhat precise in my use of language. This, it should be noted, was not ‘seeped’, ‘dribbled’ or ‘ran’ — this was ‘poured’. The shop manual and troubleshooting pictures I referenced a short time later will show a little oil collected on the engine case lip under the points plate and wryly observe that ‘this may be evidence of a cam seal failure.’ This wasn’t that. If the theoretical maximum volume of the entire points cavity is, let us say, 5 fluid ounces, there was at least three if not four full fluid ounces of motor oil in the /5’s points housing.

As I scrambled to find something really absorbent, I kept thinking the same thing over and over.

I don’t know how it ran.

Diving In

Since my whole theory of the case had now been thrown summarily out the window, I was on the hunt for more data. I pulled both spark plugs — sure enough, both were dark, sooty, indicating weak spark, which is certainly what they had with the points operating submerged in oil.

I finished the work that could be completed without the new parts I was going to need. I pulled the left cylinder head cover to check the valve clearances. Rocker end gaps were in spec, and both valves were a little tight. I passed on retorqueing the studs — at 180,000 miles and 65,000 miles since a major top end overhaul, I’m pretty confident that this engine is stable and ‘run-in’. I opened up the clearances in both valves, replaced the cover, and then rotated the engine through 360 degrees and attended to the other side. On the right side, rocker endplay was also fine, and only the exhaust valve was out of spec. A quick adjustment, replace the cylinder head cover, and it was Gojo and laptop time.

A little Internet time later I had a line on a new seal, a seal puller, a set of new points, and some allen head screws to replace the flatheads on the timing plate, which after 46 years, are a little worn.

Looking at the timing cover, it was clear that oil had been working its way down onto the front of the engine – there was a fair bit of dirt and oil accreted on the bottom of the cover. There were also six or eight carbonized Marmonated Stink Bugs in the cover. Another mystery – I have no idea how they could have found their way in there.

When the postman finally comes, we’ll remove the points, timing plate, pull and replace the seal and then put new points in and retime. I’ll end up having to completely resynch the carbs, as all of the richarding around I did to try and get the bike to idle will have thrown things off horribly when there’s good spark and airflow again.

Given how far this old motorcycle has carried me, setting it right — given how little is required — is the very least I can do. I’ll keep her rolling and ready to ride again for as long as fortune and luck hold out. More than that is a road too far ahead for me to be able to see.


In Which Pooh Figures It Out

I have a new test bike.

Which I love.

What it is is almost immaterial.


Pretty, isn’t she?

OK, you got me.

It’s a brand new Royal Enfield INT 650.  A great motor, great sound, classic attractive looks.

I’ve been riding the wheels off it every chance I get — so far I’ve been able to thread in between hard freezes and a few snow squalls.

Call it Lieutenant Columbo syndrome: “There’s just one thing bothering me…”

The front end on the bike just felt…. unsettled.

The fork just seemed like it was chasing its tail … it was harsh, not confidence-inspiring… on the road it just seemed too willing to change directions.

The frame and suspension on these bikes are designed by England’s Harris Performance — blokes who have been building custom race bike frames since Nixon was President.  They are not knobs. Their bikes work.

So what was it?

ThinkThinkThinkThinkThink (Pooh Implied)

Today I was in the shop really inspecting the bike. At first, I suspected that something might be amiss with the fork – with a damper rod setup, it could be something as simple as oil volume or weight. The fact that this brand new bike had some wrench marks on the fork caps didn’t do anything to help my anxiety.

Has Somebody Been In Here Already?

But when I checked the preload settings on the rear dual shocks the light came on and stayed on.

The INT 650 has piggyback style shocks made by Gabriel. The shocks feature a bog-standard six position preload collar. On this bike, the right shock’s collar was set to the 5th highest preload setting. The left shock’s collar was set to the 4th highest preload setting.

After removing my palm from the center of my face, I went to my /5 and retrieved my shock collar wrench. I backed the preload off to an even 2nd position on both shocks — a setting I selected based on the assumption that I weigh a material amount of pounds more than the bike’s target market.

Was pretty sure what the result would be. On badly designed classic bikes a slow steering bike could be made a bit more willing to turn with a little extra rear preload – raising the rear end. On a properly designed motorcycle, raising the rear would make a good steering bike a nervous mess. The uneven spring preload wouldn’t have helped, either.

On the road the transformation was dramatic — quick steering, and good on the sides of the tire and on corner exit.

Now I can really enjoy this motorcycle.