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

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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.

Almost.

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.

Mojo Tool

Motorcyclists are a superstitious bunch.

Starting with the Gremlin Bell.

Gremlins? Really? Nyaaah, What’s Up, Doc?

“Gremlins?!? What a Riot!!!”

I was watching a clip from a new documentary about the Isle of Man TT the other day, and one of the racers — while pulling on his riding gear — was talking about a good friend of his that had just been killed racing at the Isle.

“We try not to dwell on all of us that have died here. They would want us to go on. We ride for and with them that have gone before.”

Heck, I do that kind of thing myself.

So yeah, I may not yet have gotten to the point where I’ve sacrificed small mammals to the Riding Gods, but there have been a few times where things got so serious, I at least briefly considered it.

So when I found myself looking at my tool chest in the shop last night, it’s not at all surprising that it simply struck me how many of the tools in that chest had not originally been mine — they’d been given to me, or willed to me, or had simply appeared out of thin air in mysterious ways.

But I started to think about all the tools that had somehow come to me, and how each of them was somehow a talisman — or transmitter — of the skills of the ones whose hands had held them before me. And that thought kind of swept me away.

 

***

 

I’ve got a ServiceStar knock-off Vice Grips locking pliers that has never looked very good. They didn’t look good thirty years ago when they showed up in my tool box, and they sure don’t look any better now. But scratched into one side of the handle are the letters “NF” which have to be the mark of Neil Feather Neil is an artist and craftsman of the highest order — a maker of musical sculptures and unique instruments that all demonstrate the maximum possible levels of imagination, creativity, and no small measure of fabrication skill, besides.

When Sweet Doris from Baltimore and I moved to Frederick County those many years ago, we owned a house that had once been a country store — with the store building proper – gas pump island and all — joined to the home’s kitchen with an enclosed breezeway. The store had made a perfect studio and eventually, a florist’s shop for D, but when we first moved in it needed a little help.

It was a block building that had a full grocery store worth of inventory shelving attached to the block with masonry nails. It had been painted that lovely medium GI green that seemed to be so popular in the 30’s and 40s — and after someone had taken down the shelving it really did not present a smooth, attractive surface. Young Me had no skills, and Neal had more than a few, so he came and took up residence for a coupla few days while we crashed some drywall, paint and modern wiring and lighting into the dark beat old building.

After four or five long days mounting lathe to the wall, running romex, and drywalling and compounding the walls and ceiling, we had what appeared to be a brand new building. A few weeks later after the literal dust had settled, I found the vice grips in my toolbox. I remember thinking that if that tool brought me just half of one percent of the skill Neil had in using it, that would be some serious vice grips mojo.

So Neil, I never meant to lift your vice grips, but if you need ’em back, I’ll bring them by.

 

***

 

Upon refection, I have owned two absolutely terrible pickup trucks in my life.

The first of those absolutely terrible trucks was a FrankenTruck — its previous owner had combined the body from one of Chevy’s late 70s diesel pickups — which were do-it-yourself hand-grenade kits — with an older Oldsmobile 350 gasoline engine. I had gotten a smoking deal on it because the previous owner had become indisposed for about 7-11 years in Hagerstown.

And while that general description may sound somewhat plausible, there were a few details that were not exactly well-engineered, like twin gas tanks that had two fuel output lines but only one return line.

That system created some operational complexity that was more in line with a multi-engine aircraft than it was for a Chevy Pickup.

Perhaps to make up for all the ill that truck did me in our time together, it did do me one favor — it introduced me to Russell Mossberg.

Russell is the automotive mechanic. Apart from working as a professional mechanic, Russell races a dirt track car for fun, where things tend to get smashed and broken on the regular, and the ability to perform routine mechanical miracles in no time at all is part of the required repertoire of skill. When I found myself needing to swap an engine — in my second absolutely terrible pickup — Russell told me to bring it to a shop he managed after lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon — after the shop had closed — and we’d have the new one in by dinnertime.

We did.

When I’d first purchased Terrible Pickup One, I needed to get it inspected to re-register it, and given the genuinely sketchy paternity of the vehicle, I wasn’t expecting a completely smooth ride.

When I took the truck to the Maryland Inspection station, Russell was The Inspector.

He completed his work around and under the vehicle, and came to me with the Yellow Inspection Sheet on the clipboard.

“I’m be truthful with you Buddy … you bought this truck? Anyway, there’s a list of things that I’ll need you to repair to obtain your inspection pass, and then there’s another list of things that you don’t need to pass your inspection but you need to fix later when you can afford it.”

Russell has never been anything but 100% truthful with me then, or ever, which is a rare enough thing in a mechanic that we should note it with sincere appreciation here.

<Sound of Angelic Choir Up and Under>

Two or three years of FrankenTruck operation later, I noticed a small coolant leak under the left nose – which from my prior GM ownership experience, likely just meant a loose lower coolant hose clamp. As I poured myself over the truck’s fender to reach down to the rear of the radiator cowl, I noticed a flash of something green sticking out from the bottom of the cowling. After tightening the suspect clamp, which had turned out to be loose, I fished my hand down and produced a nice, but clearly shopworn slip joint pliers.

Slipjoint

And while it’s theoretically possible those pliers came with the truck when I bought it, since only my hands and Russell’s hands were laid upon the truck since I bought it, those slip joints were most likely Russell’s. Having watched the man at work, and having worked occasionally holding his metaphorical coat, I looked upon these beat pliers as another gift.

If you want magical, mechanical pliers mojo, you should get it from an honest man who looks at 318 Motor swaps the way most people look at making a sandwich.

 

***

 

I don’t know a lot about Vernon Goyot. And truthfully, I think there was a lot that people who thought they knew him well didn’t know, either. At least, based on what I found in his basement, anyway.

Mr. Vernon, as the neighbors and local kids called him, seemed to be a pretty normal, go to work everyday and church on Sunday kind of guy. He had a wife — Miss Dolores — that he loved and a job where he was a printing press and linotype mechanic. He lived in an old neighborhood in East Baltimore — where Sweet Doris’ parents and grandparents lived — where people looked after each other, brought food when you were sick, and supported the survivors in any way they needed when the old ones finally went home.

Mr. Vernon was closer to Sweet Doris’ grandparents’ age than her parents’ age, so, when not long after we were married, Vernon passed away, I volunteered to help her folks clean out the old rowhouse. Real estate agents that know me always joke about me being ‘a basement man’, and this was no different. Old rowhouses tend to have panelling, and this one had substantial little storage closets in the basement accessed though hatches in the panelling. And there were tools everywhere. There was a converted fishing tackle box that contained machinist’s drill bits — a box I still use, though many of the older bits have been sacrificed over time to my projects.

But one box I found was different.

Apparently Vernon had gone to fight in Europe during World War II. One small box – about the size of a cigar box – had ‘Paris’ written on its lid, and amazing things contained inside. The box had a false lid — concealed by a wooden slide. With the slide removed, once could see a woodburned artwork — a nude of a rather well-constructed unclothed woman. A woman who, it appeared, had been created by combining an image of a random nice body with an image of Miss Dolores’ head.

Oh, those crazy French.

But the hidden compartment had other little treasures.

There were insignia that appeared to have been removed from German Military uniforms. There was a very small, easily concealable 7.6 mm CZ Pistol — which had the German Imperial Eagle, complete with wreath and swastika, etched into the barrel inside the shell ejection port. And there was a steel ring — dated 1914 — which was decorated with the markings of the Order of The Iron Cross.

A Soldier’s Souvenir

Clearly, before Mr. Vernon had been punching a clock, and holding down his end of a boring, normal life, he’d had his fair share of excitement. Excitement, that when it was past, got put down into the basement and forgotten.

You Don’t Say, Stanley….

This Awl – from the Stanley Works of New Britain, Connecticut — also came from one of Vernon’s toolboxes. It’s a classic example of a tool made well enough to last and work for several lifetimes. I’ve used this tool for so many jobs, it beggars description. Putting new holes in belts and leather riding gear. Fixing shoes — Starting screws.

It just keeps doing the job without drama. Sort of like Mr. Vernon.

 

***

 

I have, when riding motorcycles, stepped on or nearly stepped on more than my fair share of tools. The drill is almost always the same — running down through the gears coming into an intersection, put foot down, and be presented with a road present.

I don’t know why tools fall out of cars or trucks in intersections, but they clearly do.

Craftsman tools have always been crazy tough. If they proved not to be, one went to your nearest Sears, and they’d give you a new one, no questions asked. As a direct result, I’ve tended to treat any Craftsmen tools in my box with a fair amount of disrespect. This one got stepped on in an intersection more than 20 years ago — it has the name ‘Josh’ scratched – badly – in the plastic handle. I’ve used this screwdriver for a screwdriver, a pry bar, a chisel, a jack handle — heck, if there was an easy way to use it for a kickstarter, I would have. If you’re out there and reading this Josh, you can’t have it back. Given the not quite fatal amount if damage I’ve done to it, I’m not sure you’d want it, anyway.

Hand Armor

I’ve got a pair of armored Duluth Trading Company carpenter’s gloves. Like everything Duluth, they’re reasonably well made, and kinda spendy. So spendy, that I wouldn’t own them, except that I nearly ran over them coming into an intersection.

Yet Another New Law of Newton? – The Conservation of Wrenches

I recently had a kind of tool crisis when my prized BMW Motorcycle tool kit was soaked in water and badly damaged by rust. One of my tools that didn’t survive that trial was a cheap Chinese adjustable wrench. It had always served as the bonehead saver – where one needed to hold a nut of the same size as another nut when breaking something loose. When my toolkit had gotten immersed, because the adjustable had moving parts – in the form of the screw adjuster and the sliding jaw it worked upon – those parts had been fused by rust, and it couldn’t be saved. I’ll admit I got a bit verklempt as I tossed something I’d used for 30 plus years into the shop trash.

On my next ride out of the house, I nearly stepped on this BluePoint adjustable wrench. It was slightly larger and, frankly, much nicer than the recently departed — made of tool steel, black oxide plated — a much nicer tool.

I’ve said bikers are a superstitious lot. Believing that The Universe can send you signs — like instantly replacing a destroyed favorite tool — plays right into that.

 

***

 

Mr Vernon was a printing press mechanic. So was my grandfather, Wadi Shamieh.

Or at least he started out that way.

Wadi — who, like many immigrants, went by the anglicized name of William in an attempt to blend and assimilate — came to this country with his mother and eight siblings from an Ottoman-occupied Syria. Wadi’s immigration papers list his occupation as ‘Printing Press Mechanic’.

Upon arrival in New York in the earliest part of the 20th century, Wadi saw a much greater market opportunity in New York’s garment industry and retrained as a sewing and knitting machine mechanic. I’m guessing that his thought process was that a lot of people were going to need sweaters where this book thing was never really going to catch on – a decision that served him well, eventually owning his own business, William A. Shamieh and Sons, and positioning my dad to become a manager and part owner of a knitting mill and garment factory that was one of Shamieh’s best customers.

When I was bestowed a former family car as my first motor vehicle, my dad pulled some of Wadi’s tools from his own tool box and presented them to me. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but as time has gone by, the apparent power of those tools — and the significance of that gift — has grown in my mind’s eye.

Wadi’s tools reflected his personality and how he approached his work — a man who liked precision — I remember him being a man who spent a lot of time manually sharpening anything with edges. To hear Wadi was to hear the constant shing of his knife blades on the sharpening steel.

Wadi’s tools also reflected the industry of his time — all made in the 19-teens and 20s. His tools are all high carbon tool steel — incredibly hard, incredibly strong — all made in America. The way these tools are made, my grandson could still find himself using them, if by that time anyone fixes anything that doesn’t involve lines of software code.

Cotter Pins Fear Me

These 90 degree needle nose pliers are feared by cotter pins everywhere. They have a long reach, can get into tight spots, and their pivot points are as well machined as engine internals – they have no discernible slop. The number of small, precise mechanisms this pliers has serviced is beyond anyone’s recall. From needlebed cams on Groz-Beckert knitting machines to slide needle clips on my Del’Ortos, if it’s small, I can hold it with these.

Rugged

We take the concept of a reversing ratchet socket wrench for granted, but before it was invented ratchets only turned one way — and to reverse drive directions one turned the drive handle over and pushed something called a drive plug through to the other side of the ratchet. Wadi’s Walden Worcester drive handle – built in 1928 – is about the toughest ratchet drive I’ve ever seen. It looks like a tool that a guy 10 years younger than Fred Flintstone would have spun. Given that most of my serious wrenching is done on motorcycles, I don’t make frequent use of 1/2 inch drive sockets, but for things like motormount bolts, swingarm pivots, centerstand bolts and telescopic fork tops and bottoms, this one reigns supreme. The Walden is long enough to apply sufficient force, and utterly rigid — it just does the job, drama free.

Built Better Than Tank

I ended up with 8 or 10 of my grandfather’s open end combination wrenches — all in SAE sizes, although one set is dual labelled with SAE on one side and metric equivalents on the back. It isn’t as easy to make a tough wrench as you might think — one that won’t round off fasteners or bend in use. Ask anyone who had a 1970s or 80s Japanese motorcycle with a factory toolkit, it you’re looking for backup.

These wrenches — again, dating from the 1920s — are forged tool steel. As many times as Wadi wailed on them, and I have wailed on them, the working faces of the wrenches have no discernible wear marks after over 90 years of use.

 

***

 

No one taught me how to be a mechanic. Anything I needed to do, I taught myself.

Sure, there were Chiltons, Haynes, and then after the dawn of the Internet, user communities like the Internet BMW Riders, and then eventually Google and YouTube, where you could learn Brain Surgery by watching videos if you were so inclined.

My Uncle Dick – who is a professional mechanic – used to warn me not to take guidance in the mechanical arts from his brother, my father. His appraisal of dad’s level of skills was not flattering.

That these hands have successfully rebuilt motorcycle top ends and had them run better afterwards – swapped bike engines and transmissions — done clutches — changed countless tires and brake pads — changed a sea of oil — makes me think that the gift of hands that can feel and that know — must skip generations.

Either that, or it’s the tools.