Apr 30
Motorcycle mythology

More motorcycles means more mythology.
Long-held traditions, cherished beliefs and urban legends abound in the motorcycle world.
Many of these are harmless, even funny. Some, however, have the potential to cost money, time and, in some sad cases, lives.
The thing that can make some of these myths so pervasive is that they are often held by some of the most experienced bikers. Those grizzled old veterans of more miles than I have time left to ride, make statements that the rest of us take as gospel. One example is the old saw: “Loud pipes save lives.” This is simply an untrue statement, yet the weight of study, statistics and critical analysis fails to make much of an impact against the assertions of longtime riders. I’m amazed every time I see some guy tooling down the road wearing a doo rag instead of a helmet, feeling quite secure because his pipes are drowning out jet aircraft.
But myths can have a less deadly effect also. I’ve been doing a lot of research on engines. There are several time-honored modifications bikers use to increase the power of their motors. As a newbie simply doing research, I’m certainly not about to go out on a limb and tell some of these guys they’re wrong. Being gifted with 5 left thumbs on each hand, I feel reluctant to tell some longtime wrencher a procedure, long honored in his community, actually doesn’t improve performance.
But that doesn’t mean I have to buy into the myth. When I read articles by people with good credentials and supported by data in conflict with the conventional wisdom, I’m reminded that until the mid- to late ’70s, counter steering was flatly denied by most riders. Turn left to go right is simply to counterintuitive. In 1973, Dr Harry Hurt and a group of Honda enthusiasts produced enough technical data in a conference on motorcycle safety to get instructors to take a close look. New riders coming to biking were introduced to the concept, and it is now accepted by most riders. But I’m sure the old hands from the ’70s went to their graves insisting that turning left into a righthand bend will put you in the ditch.
The old vets have a lot to teach us newer riders. But a well-reasoned voice of dissent deserves an audience. In the final analysis, physics don’t care about your street cred.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 27
A tale of two bikes
A tale of two bikes
My second bike was a 1994 Honda Magna. It’s a 500-pound, 750cc, four- cylinder bike that I still have today. When my wife and I looked for a larger bike for extended range and greater luggage capacity, we decided to keep the sporty little Magna. It’s a quick and lively little bike and just a lot of fun to ride. It’s fast in the straights and nimble in the corners. While it will easily reach speeds faster than 120 miles-per-hour, it’s too light be be comfortable going that fast. It takes a severe buffeting on the interstate.
The Other bike I still have is an 850-pound dry weight, 1500cc touring cruiser by Victory. Even 18-wheelers don’t give it too much turbulence passing on the interstate. It feels rock solid at highway speeds, and is comfortable over long distances. My wife has wedged herself into the armrests and gone to sleep several times.
I usually ride the Magna around town, to work and to the store. When I ride the Magna for a while, I get used to taking corners faster and leaning into them more than I would on the Victory. As smooth as the the big touring cruiser is rolling down the highway, it’s an absolute pig at slow speeds. The tall jugs on that 92-cubic inch, freedom V-twin engine makes the bike top heavy. There’s a little more rake on the front forks than most bikes of its size, and the wheel base is about 8 inches longer. All of this adds up to a bike that is tippy and won’t begin counter steering until almost 20 miles-per-hour. I dropped it a couple of times when I first got it. It took me a while to get used to how unstable it was moving at slow speed. And it’s not designed for extreme cornering. I’ve scraped the crossover pipe off three times now in a right-hand turn. The Magna will scrape the pegs when you hit a corner a little fast and I get used to that. Unfortunately, a muffler clamp is the part that catches the pavement on the Victory. When I’ve been riding the Magna for a while and then go back to the Victory I sometimes forget how different it can be. A sudden scraping noise followed by the loud blat of hot exhaust gases coming straight out an open pipe is usually a good reminder.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 20
The dark side
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 04 20th, 2010| icon33 Comments »
Back fender well

There’s not much room in the back fender well of my Victory.
I just put a back tire on my Victory. I went with a popular brand of motorcycle tire, and the same size as the one that came with the bike. But I did seriously consider going to the dark side. In the motorcycle world, going to the dark side means running a car tire.
The reason most dark siders give for their decision is tire life. Most motorcycle tires are good for about 10,000 to 15,000 miles, yet cost the same or more than a comparable car tire good for 50,000 miles. The reasons given for this discrepancy depend largely on who you speak to. Tire manufacturers insist that a motorcycle tire is different from a car tire and engineering constraints limit tire life. Motorcycle tires are round to keep an even contact patch on the ground when the bike leans into a turn. They are also designed to be “sticky.” The tire must grip the road, even in a lean, with sufficient force to keep the wheels from sliding out from under the bike. Those who oppose dark siding say it’s a safety issue.
Dark siders don’t buy it. While the argument sounds logical, many of these folks have run car tires for tens of thousands of miles and say the empirical data don’t support that assertion. I’ve read many forum threads and articles about motorcycle tires. The most convincing one to me was by a Valkyrie rider I know from a forum I belong to. Dark side thread on MOOT Of the arguments I’ve heard, those in favor of running car tires seemed more well thought out and less biased. The manufacturers obviously have a vested interest in selling you a new $120 tire every10,000 miles rather than every 50,000 miles. While many riders claim that there is a safety issue involved, most of them simply parrot the tire industry statements. I haven’t found a good, unbiased study or trial showing real danger. Most of those claims have been either anecdotal, or calculated without a legitimate data set. Dark siders also point out that a tire less likely to blow out on you is a safer tire.
So, why did I stay with an MC tire? There were two reasons. First, I couldn’t fire a car tire with a profile that I know I could get on my bike without modifying it. There’s not a lot of room up in the fender well of my bike so any tire I use will have to fit a specific profile. I just couldn’t find a car tire I was sure would fit.
The second reason has nothing to do with safety. It was strictly a legal issue. I’m not sure a car tire is legal on a motorcycle. But I know for sure that if I’m ever in an accident, counsel for the opposition will insist that my car tire was at fault. And fortunately for him there is a wealth of industry data-propaganda to back him up. A car tire might be safe on a motorcycle, but is isn’t safe in a courtroom.

Another good dark side article.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 14
Tattooed Biker
As winter leathers come off, vibrant skin patterns are revealed.

Motorcycles are like snakes. At least my wife thinks so. There is a park close to her workplace where she often goes for lunch. I was talking to her on the phone one day while she was there when our conversation was interrupted by a loud bike going by her.
“I’ve seen a bunch of bikes today,” she exclaimed. “This is the first day I’ve seen any.” Then she continued, “You know how when you see the first snake after winter they’re suddenly everywhere? It’s the same way with motorcycles.”
I can’t say I’d ever thought of it in just those terms, but she is on to something. I suppose it’s for the same reason. Motorcycle riders, like snakes, don’t come out as much when it’s cold and wet. But the sun warming asphalt is irresistible to both.
And as the summer goes on, bikers, again like snakes, go through a molting process. Riders braving early spring will be encased in warming layers, usually of leather. Those that eschew helmets are still likely to have some kind of warming head gear. But as the days get longer and warmer, the outer layers begin to slough off. As just as the dull, old skin of the snake comes off to reveal the bright vibrant pattern of each particular species, so the black winter garb coming off may reveal bright vibrant patterns of the biker’s tattoos. And just as the distinctive patterns on reptiles may warn of danger, so too can the the identifying markings on a one-percenter warn of potential lethality.
Drawing this tortured analogy to a final point, the end of summer may see the epidermis of the sun-loving biker truly resembling the reptilian scales of a snake. Dry glassy eyes squinting from a dry leathered face, cracked enough to look like scales, is a common sight at July and August rallies.
So as you head out on the road, keep an eye out for snakes and bikers. Please don’t run over one of them.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 8
icon1 Guy | icon2 Uncategorized | icon4 04 8th, 2010| icon3No Comments »
Victory 92TC Deluxe cross-over pipe

My Victory 92TC deluxe and it’s detached cross-over pipe.

Even though I ride through most of the winter, the riding usually picks up when the weather starts to warm up. The guys I keep up with on the forums who live in colder climates start to roll out their bikes, and the Internet is alive with summer maintenance chatter. This is the time of year when I think more about maintenance on my bikes.
The Magna that I usually ride around town was giving me problems, so I decided to ride the larger Victory for a few days. As I made a corner just a few blocks from my house, the cross-over pipe on my muffler system fell off. In an unusual coincidence, I’d lost that same part at that exact spot a couple of years ago. The good thing about having a straight pipe coming right off the exhaust port on my cylinder head is that nobody could hear the verbose genealogical and theological speculations in which I was engaged. I limped noisily back home. Glancing at the garage full of unrideable motorcycles, I hopped in the pickup and went to work.
Lamenting my woes on the forums brought several responses. One member suggested that my problems was a faulty muffler bearing. Knowing that several of my bikes are Japanese brands, he cautioned me about using a metric crescent wrench on an American motorcycle.
I’ll head out to the parts store this afternoon for a new muffler bearing and a SAE crescent wrench so that I can put the pipe back on this weekend. Maybe I’d better pick up some blinker fluid while I’m at it.

— Guy Wheatley

Apr 5
Riding on faith.
icon1 Guy | icon2 Wrenching | icon4 04 5th, 2010| icon31 Comment »
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Looking for the gremlins in the V-4 engine of my Honda Magna.

Looking for the gremlins in the V-4 engine of my Honda Magna.

I was heading home for lunch last Tuesday when my bike suddenly got real sluggish. It would almost die every time I tried to pull away from a stop. I’d have to hit 4000 rpm on the tack and slip the clutch to get moving. The engine would easily go to 9000 in neutral with no load, but it just didn’t have any power.
When I got home, I started checking and it looked as though the engine wasn’t hitting on its two back cylinders. This engine is a V-4. The pipes coming off of the back two cylinders were cold. I just figured I’d lost the back coil. I had another bike to ride so I planed to switch off and look at this one the following Saturday. (That turned out to be different sad story.) The battery was a little low. I was only showing 12.5 volts with the engine running at 4000 rpm. It would actually jump up to about 13.5 volts when I dropped the engine to 2000 rpm. The battery seemed sluggish so I hooked up the charger and gave it a good, deep cycle, 2 amp charge overnight.
(Side note here. Both battery and regulator are only about two years old.)
Saturday I go out to fix the bike. The first thing I want to do is confirm that I don’t have fire at the back two cylinders. I fire it up and sure enough it runs rough, just like it did on Tuesday. But when I check to see which two cylinders aren’t hitting, it’s now the left rear and the right front. I pull the back plugs out and check for fire. The plugs look good. Dry with a little black residue. Not chocolate, but dry with no clumps, and I have fire at both plugs. Those front plugs are rough to get to. You have to pull the radiator to get to them, so I decided to start the engine again and make sure which cylinders aren’t firing.
With this tank of gas, I’m on the second half of a can of a gas additive that is supposed to remove carbon build up. I’m starting to think the gas additive may have loosened something that’s plugging up a gas line, or jet in my carburetor. But before I start pulling the carburetor off, I want a final check to be sure. Those plugs on the back cylinders looked good to me. Also, I’m smelling gas at the tail pipe. Doesn’t that mean I’m getting gas, but no fire?
I put the bike back together and start then engine. When I run it up to 8000 rpm, it starts to backfire and blow black smoke. The tach starts to jump every time it backfires. I just hold the engine speed there for a while while it spits, pops, and blows smoke. It eventually settles down and holds engine speed without backfiring. The smoke clears up too. I grabbed a helmet and put a couple of miles on it right then. It fires off the line and hasn’t missed a beat since then. I’ve been riding it as much as I can since. It’s running as well as I ever remember. Additionally, the battery seems to be holding the charge.
I haven’t really “fixed” anything so I’m still a little skittish, but it’s running good at the moment, and I don’t want to start monkeying with it. I’ll keep riding it to work and to the store until it either starts acting up again or until I trust it again. In the meantime, I’m just riding on faith.

— Guy Wheatley