Miscellany: Motorcycle, 4

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2/15/2013. Some of what has gone before...

You have to ask yourself, why now? Why, after burying a BMW in the basement for 14 years, is it time, now, to roll it out and tickle it back to life?

Part of it is just that the opportunity presented itself suddenly, unexpectedly, but the eagerness with which I laid hold of it surprised even me. Some of it is tangled up in something that floored me within within about ten minutes of Michael's telling me, "I know just the man you need to talk to." It didn't take any longer than that for the irony to settle in: I'd just committed to having an arthritic hip replaced and the customary restriction on flexion (never bend your hip more than 90°) meant that it was entirely possible that riding a K75S would be out of bounds. The idea that I'd found a wrench to resurrect the bike just as I was about to become incapable of riding it was just that little bit too far over the top. Sometimes you just say, that's just not the way it's going to be. And then you make sure it isn't.

Then there was this: my hip has been getting worse and worse for years. Maybe decades. It might, I said might, trace back to that damn-near head-on collision I and this bike had with a Toyota on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home from Cambridge. More about that another time. My hips may have been a little out of line since birth, judging by some peculiarities I've observed on bicycles over the years, but being sandwiched between a 3,000 pount car and a 500 pound motorcycle going in opposite directions at about 30 mph surely lacked therapeutic value.

After getting the metal and fiberglass back in place, over the next year, I sawed back and forth from Johnson City, Tennessee, to Lenoir, North Carolina, every weekend. Sometimes I drove, but when the weather was inviting, I took the bike. One fine day while cleaning it up and topping off the charge of its battery, I killed it a second time. And that ended my two-wheeled days before I was ready.


This is the year I realized that I had to get my hip fixed. The truth is, it never did hurt much. It just refused to move in ways it used to and it was getting more and more mutinous. Freedom from severe pain, the usual reward for going through hip replacement surgery, didn't really apply. If I wanted a significant, identifiable reward for all this time, discomfort, and expense, I'd have to arrange one.

With that, it all came together: I wanted meat and metal repaired together. For my trouble, I wanted North America back. I wanted my BMW out of the basement and on the road again. Danny -- the man Michael said I had to meet -- assures me that the bike's geometry can be adjusted over a fair range of kinematic territory. Odds on, he said, it can be made safe and comfortable, even for an old man with a bionic hip.


You know you've become a fossil when you look at a 20-year-old motorcycle and never once think of it as a relic: it's a fuel-injected, water-cooled, shaft-driven BMW with anti-lock brakes. That does not sound antiquated to me. It never crosses my mind to think of it as a classic or an antique. (I like that vintage in BMW cars, too; also Hondas. Ever seen a 90's NSX?) I do, however, concede that mt Beemer's good looks are ever so slightly retro, and with that in mind, I selected a riding jacket with overtones of classic Belstaff style. Mind, my jacket-to-be has microporous rain-proofing that would be called "Gore-Tex" in the careless, generic, trademark-ignoring sort of way that makes every tissue a Kleenex. The Tour Master Rincon jacket, for all its 60's English cut, carries integral armor that is at least as good as the armor which served me well 16 years ago. (Why not use the same riding suit I wore then? Because I am 16 years heavier, that's why. Can we just leave it at that?)


2/5/2013. I started the bike this afternoon and noticed a high pitched whine (sound of balloon juice escaping) that had not been there before. Fuel pump? I tried just flicking the starter switch to energize the pump and listen, but I was hampered by a pleasant problem: the bike started instantly, every time. I opened and closed the gas cap a couple of times and the whine went away. Its seal just needed to be worked a bit, I suppose.

One week to go.


3/22/2013. Well the surgery and initial recover were easy. As promised. Nothing to it (if you don't count writing the checks). The bike continues to fire instantly with that characteristic cloud of smoke from sitting on its sidestand (oil leaks into the cylinders when parked with the valves downhill and...). Today's the first day I've sat astride the bike. The leg and hig feel great, but I think I may have lost some flex in my hips and back; the bars seems farther away. I have a nice set of barbacks here against precisely that outcome, and, when the weather wills, I'll take a good look at installing them. My next visit with the surgeon isn't until April 8. Maybe I'll be cleared to drive and ride after that, maybe not. Soon or soonish, anyway.


3/28/2013. I removed the handlebar clamps and dry-fitted the barbacks. I expected that the brake line would be too short, but a lot of electrical cables and maybe the clutch cable also seem to be problems. Let's rethink this. Merely rotating the S-bars in the clamps allows them to be raised considerably and the grips to come back slightly (the fitting at the bottom of the brake reservoir has to be rotated a bit to clear the bar and provide enough reach, something to be aware of if you're following along). This is a good start at tailoring the bike. By the time I'd climbed on and off a few times (with paranoia unbounded about the left hip) I was plenty sore and do not trust my impressions of fit. It still seems like a long reach, but I'm at least a few weeks from being healthy and flexible enough for this anyway. It feels better each time I try it. So we'll see what happens.


5/09/2013. Two weeks ago, the BMW felt really good. Today it felt better than it has ever felt, ever, since the day I bought it in 1997. It fired right up; I sat there with the handlebars in easy reach and threw it from side to side, feet on the ground, the weight no big deal. It "sat" very comfortably; I could handle it more confidently than ever. The incremental lowering, the almost-100% hip, something has made a world of difference. The only thing keeping me from taking it up the driveway is the thought that if for any reason I stall it on that steep grade, it's going to be hell nursing it back down or restarting. And I don't want to take a chance on damaging it or the hip just before we take off for New Mexico. So 0give it three more weeks and we're in business.


6/05/2013. Rolling! I waited till Amy left for her fiddle lesson with Reggie. I didn't know how long this would take; I didn't want to say, "Back in 5" and then take half an hour. I started the bike and let it flush the oil from the cylinders. I dressed up like I knew what I was doing (jacket, gloves, helmet). Everything felt good at rest, so I notched it into 1st and pulled away from the parking spot onto the driveway. Found neutral, found 2nd, found neutral again. No problem. It's a slight downgrade at the start, so I left it in 2nd -- I figured there'd be plenty of torque in 2nd for the pull up the 26% slope as long as I stayed on the throttle, and I for sure didn't want to risk missing a shift -- and let out the clutch. It was a very satisfying pull; a non-event, no suspense. The bike made no offer to stall; it was just a casual slightly-more-than-an-idle up a road that happened to have a significant tilt. I stopped in the cul de sac to take stock, adjust the helmet a bit, and then I put in 20 minutes whirring around the neighborhood, remembering how to turn, how to look around, how this whole things works. It wasn't entirely smooth -- my stops need work; I still lack some confidence in the left leg. It was uneventful but a little tense. It's hard to believe I ever felt really at home on one of these. Anyway, now that I know for sure that the steep launch is not a problem and that I can putter around out there, I can take 20 minutes now and then and go practice without provoking a ton of worry.


8/20/2013. I've only had it out in the neighborhood a few times. I don't like having to think about such basic things as the left lever is the clutch, the right is the brake. Over the summer, at a couple of social events, I've met other people who have returned to motorcycles. When I mention this, there is this look of relief that comes over us both -- ah, it's not just me.

Once, I lost a lot of power and had to beg the cycle to climb out of the cul de sac and onto flatter ground while I got things sorted out. I'm still not sure what happened. I don't think I've come to a smooth stop yet, and I know that I've yet to launch properly and in perfect control from a T-intersection into a left or right turn. Before the end of the year, I'll have to take it to an inspection station, so I need to be getting this act squared away.


10/3/2013. Twice now, the bike has declined to fire and each time it has fired instantly after a change of plugs. Today I put the old plugs back in (old ones were black and wet) and cured a refusal to start. I infer they're soaked from flooding. I checked all the ignition wires and coils -- fat white (should be blue?) sparks on all wires, from all plugs. So what gives?

And it's developed an electrical glitch: the overheat light comes on and stays on as soon as the ignition catches. Today, the fan decided to join in this faux overheating show.

Next: Fresh gas, fresh determination to get on top of the game again.


10/4/2013. I added 2.7 gallons of 100% gasoline and thought with only a little trepidation about cruising around the neighborhood. I pressed the GO button, and it won't start. Chuff, grind, grind, grind. I pulled the spark plugs. Wet and black. I'm getting pretty quick about that. Now I'm letting everything dry out. I wonder if it has something to do with my leaving the choke on overnight? Do fuel injectors leak? Honey, does this question make my ignorance look fat? 90 minutes later, the plugs look and smell dry. I put everything back together. Started perfectly. Idle smoothed out reasonably quickly. Exhaust gases feel hotter than I remember.

The fact that the overheat light comes on as soon as the engine fires (when it fires) and that the fan kicks in immediately suggests that the (or "a") temperature sensor is shot. Since the temperature sensors have voices in decisions made by the fuel / ignition computer(s), this may all be balled up together. Coolant temperature sensor, anyone? Relay issues?

I finally stubborned up and found the clips that hold the rear of the tank down. Removed them, lifted the tank to reveal the relays. I don't have clear access to them, but I could tap them and see that they look perfect, new, immaculate. I put everything back together (clips are in my desk drawer) and pushed the "Go" button. Started up, idled about as well as it ever has.


10/08/2013. Again with the run for a few seconds and die with flooded cylnders. Pulled the plugs again. Dried them for 90 minutes again. Put them back in. This time, it didn't fire (cooler weather...) but a more ominous symptom captured my attention: fuel sprayed onto the left rear engine cover. Apparently from or near the rear injector. At first, I thought it oozed up through the seal in the engine case, which made no sense at all. Instead, it was being sprayed from above. I removed the injector cable. Same result. Looked more closely: it appears to be coming from the fuel rail, maybe the O-ring under that last injector. It occured to me that I might have crimped the return fuel line while monkeying with the tank. Wiggled the tank some, tried again. No fuel leak. Keep an eye on this. Really. I have no confidence that this issue has gone away.




mechanic's view


Shade tree mechanic still-life 1 & 2. "Mechanic's Tools," "Mechanic's View." Does it really make sense to pretend to be a shade tree mechanic with a bike that has two computers to control the engine? (Does it make sense for me to pretend to be...?)

I let the cylinders air out for a few hours in the heat of the day (such as it is in mid-October), and at 4:30 I replaced the plugs and tried the starter. Aha! We have a motorcycle, at least for the moment. I hurried inside and came back with helmet, gloves, and jacket and then took a quick tour of the neighborhood, topping out around 40mph, turning around in a couple of cul de sacs, stopping and pulling out from stop signs with no problems whatever. Clutch and brakes felt natural -- I never really thought about them. Finally! That is as it should be. The fan still spins and the overheat light insists the engine is hot (my bare hand laid against the case says it is not). We'll be in Asheville tomorrow; maybe I'll swing by the BMW dealer and ask about water temperature sensors and fan switches.


10/23/2013. The trip to Asheville got swallowed up by a basset hound -- we adopted one and had people to meet and places to go. I saw the BMW shop as we went by, though, so now I know where it is. Today I bought a temperature sensor and relay ("switch") to sort out the starting / overheat light / fan issues. I probably don't need both parts, but on eBay the pair with shipping cost less than either would from the shop, and time is valuable with winter coming on. I'll swap out the relay first (said to be easy and I have laid eyes and hands on it, so...) and if that doesn't do it, will call Danny and set up a consult. Odds on, I'll already have the part.

I started the bike this morning without trouble, thinking about maybe cruising the neighborhood before the weather turns cold, but after just a few minutes I saw that the strong smell of gasoline was not due to incipient flooding. There was a stream of gasoline not only running down the back of the engine block but spraying off into the dried pine needles. Did I turn off the engine quickly? You bet I did. And I sprayed the whole area down with a garden hose just in case. Turns out to be a simple problem just this once: the return fuel line at the end of the injector rail was not clamped securely. The clamp was loose enough to move by hand. A couple of twists with a screwdriver and that little issue was resolved. Of course, now the engine was flooded, so I pulled the plugs and let it all dry out for a couple of hours. Fired, idled (albeit roughly), with no sign of a gusher. The steep drive is now covered with a thick drift of pine needles. So that's probably more than enough of the biker life for today.


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                   © 2013, David Cortner