Maintenance - Long Before Your Tour
Even the best 'wrench' makes mistakes
By: James R. Davis
A couple of years ago a friend of ours joined us on a 1,200 mile tour. She is a conscientious lady and wanted to make sure her motorcycle was ready and safe before we left, so she took her Wing to a dealer and had them do some work on it for her. Among other things, she had her rear brakes worked on because they seemed to 'stick a little'. She picked up the bike just before our trip. That nearly cost her her life.
In the case of our friend, they charged her for the brake work, but later investigation shows that it was never done at all. Even if it had been, it makes no sense at all to depend on recent mechanical work while out on a tour. Far better, test the bike for several hundred miles before taking that tour.
Our friend's rear brakes locked up 1,100 miles into the tour with us and she did a high-side at 50 MPH.
So, this time a few hundred miles of testing would not have discovered the problem. But what about the next time?
It seems to me that the above does not quite put this message in perspective. So, try this one...
Recently Cash picked up her bike from the dealer after they had done some major work on it for her. She had the cams and lifters replaced on the right side of the block. She rode the bike home and commented to me that the bike had never felt so good and smooth to her. She was thrilled with the work.
The next day we took the bikes out for a couple hundred miles in order to lay out and pre-ride a poker run we are responsible for in a couple of weeks. We got a total of 12 miles under our belts before the engine blew.
Cash was going 70 MPH and was in the fast lane of a four lane wide freeway. She heard a metallic grind, then the left side of her engine housing disappeared. The bolt holding the flywheel backed out and ripped the metal casing apart in the process. Oil sprayed out to the left and saturated her chaps and boot. About two quarts were lost in a matter of seconds.
Cash signaled that she was going to pull off the freeway by going left into the center median. I saw from behind her what had happened and insisted that she move RIGHT instead. Secured each lane and we did just that - moved right across four lanes and off the side of the road. I am greatly impressed with Cash's calmness during this experience. She did not freeze. She did not panic. She did not 'hit her brakes'. Instead, she smoothly eased her bike to the right and got it off the freeway without losing control.
[Lest any reader doubt the wisdom of moving four lanes to the right instead of one lane to the left, I remind you that the oil was gushing out on the left side. If she had gone left to exit the freeway she would have risked riding over that oil with her back tire. When we stopped and got off the bikes it was still dripping major amounts of oil beneath her bike.]
The mechanic who did the work on her bike is world class! He insisted after seeing what had happened, and turning white as a sheet, that they had not been anywhere near that part of the engine to replace the cams and lifters. Nevertheless, he promised to fix the bike at his cost because 'it looks bad for us.'
Cash asked me if I believe the guy. I do. I put my life into his hands whenever I give him my bike for work. By definition I believe this man. He will not eat the whole job, I assure you. (It was later determined that he had used a wrench on the flywheel bolt to crank the engine in order to set the timing of the cam he installed. He told us, not some other wrench, that he may have loosened the bolt without realizing it.)
But the message should be crystal clear now: Do your maintenance long before you do your tour. Use your newly maintained bike for at least 100 miles before you leave home.
Even the best 'wrench' makes mistakes. Those that are not the best make more of them.
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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)