Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On to other bikes

After a lot of reflection, I traded the VTR about a month ago. For the most part, it was fun to ride but I could never quite get comfortable with the riding position. I learned to ride on a 1986 Honda Reflex (TLR200) which is the 'street' version of Honda's competition trials bike from the early 80s. After a series of dual sport bikes, the VTR was my first street (only) bike. While the riding position was closer to standard than sport, it never really felt comfortable. So, it went to new owners that will appreciate it it for what it is. I now have a 2004 Honda Reflex (scooter) that will be used for commuting. My wife has an '02 Reflex so I am very familiar with the vehicle. Considering it has only 4400 miles, it's barely broken in.

I will leave the blog up to be used as a resource. However, it may behoove you to navigate to the shop manual chapters and save individual copies for your use. You never know when I'll lose my ability to host PDF files.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mind your gasket sealers & RTV

I recently had my carburetors overhauled due to failing o-rings on the fuel supply line. The person that did the work used a Permatex product called Super 300 Form-A-Gasket Sealant. What he did not know was that these products have a shelf life. How long? We'll get to that momentarily.

A little history; in the late 80s and early 90s, I raced a 1967 Austin-Healey Sprite Mk IV (same as an MG Midget Mk III) in Sports Car Club of America's F Production class. We used Super 300 to seal head gaskets. So, I was familiar with the product, albeit in a different application.

When the carburetors were returned to me, I was a little surprised to discover a greenish-brown sealant on both the float bowl o-rings as well as the slide diaphragms. I queried the re-builder and learned that the sealant was indeed, Super 300. OK, fine. I was a little surprised that the float bowl o-rings needed this because not only were they brand new, they also sat nicely in their recesses in the float bowls. There was really no reason to 'glue' them in place.

I re-assembled everything and started the engine. It idled pretty nicely. I took it for a short ride to get it up to temperature, and then tried to accelerate up to the speed limit. At 5000 rpm, the engine stopped pulling and pretty much "fell on its face". Not good. I checked to see if I had an electrical issue (only one cylinder working). Nope, both exhaust pipes were hot. Then, I wondered if the petcock was some how restricting fuel flow. Nope, after removing the petcock from the equation, the engine still ran poorly. At this point, the only thing left was to remove the carburetors and inspect them. After popping off one of the float bowls, this is what I saw:


More Ick

The Super 300 had clearly come in contact with the gasoline and dissolved into it. Needless to say, I gave both carburetors a good cleaning. It took a small piece of Scotch-Brite, soaked in carburetor cleaner, to get the o-ring sealing surfaces clean. Other places required a toothbrush to remove that residue. The obvious conclusion was that Super 300 is not compatible with gasoline. Not so fast my friend.

I had to understand what was going on here. So, I called Permatex and spoke with a tech. He told me that Super 300 was compatible with gas. Huh? So, why did this occur? It would seem that Super 300, like other Permatex products, has a shelf life. And, the shelf life of Super 300 is two (2) years. I contacted the re-builder and discovered that his container of Super 300 was somewhere around twenty (20) years in age. !!! So, boys and girls, don't assume that your sealants are still good after they've been sitting in your toolbox or on your garage shelf for years and years and years. Most likely, they're not.

As a follow-up, the Permatex tech suggested I use a newer product; PermaShield. Not only does this product have the same capabilities as Super 300, it supposedly will handle dis-assembly and subsequent re-assembly without requiring another application. That's pretty nice. The shelf life of PermaShield is also two (2) years but Permatex is thinking of extending that. I also found that Super 300 isn't as readily available as it was when I was racing. Every auto parts store I visited indicated it was "special order". PermaShield is supposedly stocked by all of the major auto parts store chains with the possible exception of NAPA (why, I do not know).

So, got a container of Super 300 on the shelf? Don't have any idea how old it is? I would suggest you discard it and go get something fresh. Even if it's another container of (now special order) Super 300, at least you know it'll do what you expect it to do (especially if fuel is involved). Perhaps writing a date on the container isn't a bad idea either.

After the cleaning, the carburetors work as they should and the engine pulls all the way past 10,000 rpm. Nice.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Replacing Carburetor Boots

At some point in the life of your VTR, the carburetors are going to need maintenance. Removing them can be a frustrating experience because you're going to have to deal with 20+ year old rubber; the boots that connect the carburetors to the cylinder heads. Honda provides very good parts support for their older motorcycles. Most maintenance parts are still readily available, from various sources. I had no issue finding boots.  The dis-assembly process will also provide excellent access to a couple of other maintenance items; spark plugs and air filter. If these haven't been addressed recently, now may be a good time as any. As with the boots, the plugs and filter are readily available. Lastly, you will have excellent access to the petcock vacuum hose. It's cheap and easy to replace. With all of this maintenance 'on the brain' you may be tempted to replace the fuel line, too. In this case you may want to leave it alone unless it's really shot and/or leaking. The "T" in the line is fragile and requires o-rings to properly seal. The o-rings aren't so readily available nor is the "T". Considering the age of these bikes, you may want to add an in-line fuel filter, in between the petcock and the "T", which will catch any debris that makes is past the screen inside the petcock.

Start by removing the bodywork so that you can access the fuel tank. Here's a LINK to Chapter 12 of the Shop Manual, which outlines the bodywork removal. You will need to remove the Side Covers and the Side Fairings only.

When that step is complete, you'll need to follow procedures in Chapter 4 of the Shop Manual (LINK). Start on page 4-3.

Images are thumbnails, click for larger version.

Here, I have removed the bodywork and the fuel tank:

Disconnect the fuel overflow tube from the side of the air box. There are six Phillips head screws holding the air box cover. Remove them, remove the cover and the air filter. You may have to wiggle the cover, from side-to-side, as the snorkel is tucked into the frame near the head bearings.

There is a domed screen over the carburetor trumpets. Around the perimeter of that screen are four Phillips head screws. Remove them so that the bottom of the air box can be removed. Also, be sure to remove the breather tube from the right rear corner of the air box base.

It's now time to remove the carburetors (along with the cast aluminum plenum), as an assembly. To do so, loosen the four carburetor boot retaining clamps. The Shop Manual shows the clamps to be oriented so that access is from the right side of the bike. This means you'll have to peer through coolant hoses to locate the screw heads.

With the clamps loose, grasp the aluminum plenum and wiggle it backward/forward and side-to-side to break the carburetor assembly loose from the boots and/or cylinder heads. If the boots have hardened, you may need to cut them, from top to bottom, with a razor blade (utility knife). Try to be patient here, sometimes counter-intuitive movements will achieve the desired results.

Now that the carburetor assembly is free of the boots/motor, you will need to disconnect the choke cables as well as remove the accelerator cables.

For the choke cables, use a 14mm open end wrench to loosen the choke valve nut. Take care here as the nuts are plastic and can easily strip. Once they are loose, you can remove them using your fingers. There is a rubber boot that covers a portion of the nut and part of the cable. The boot will be tight (no air leaks!) and thus cause the nut to turn slowly. Be patient, turn the nut and wait for the boot to "catch up", then turn the nut some more. When the rear choke cable is free, drape it over the right side of the frame, this will help keep it out of your way while you work on the valve nut on the front carburetor.

For the throttle cables, use a 10mm wrench to loosen the lock nuts. The lock nuts are the nuts closest to the throttle drum (where the cable ends attach). You may need to use another 10mm wrench to keep the adjuster nuts from turning. Spin the lock nuts all the way to the end of the exposed threads (but not off). You should now have plenty of room to free the cables from the cable holder. Rotate the throttle drum, clockwise, which will expose the lower cable end. Remove the lower cable end from the drum. Release the drum and remove the upper cable end from the drum. The carburetor assembly should now be free and can be set aside (for whatever maintenance is required).

You may want to use a small piece of rag or paper towel to block the intake ports. You certainly do not want any dirt/debris (or parts!) to fall into that opening. If one, or both, of the boots remain on the cylinder head(s), remove it/them. Take this opportunity to clean around the cylinder head openings (and the upper engine in general). If you're changing spark plugs, you now have excellent access to the rear cylinder head.

I chose to attach the boots to the carburetor assembly and then put the entire assembly back on the motor (after I finished working on the carburetors). I did it in this manner because I wanted to ensure that I had the boot oriented correctly. There is a "carb side" (and therefore an engine side) to each boot as well as an "up" orientation.

 If you look closely, there are (slightly) raised/lowered areas on both sides of the boots. These correspond lowered/raised areas on the carburetors and cylinder heads. In the photo above you can clearly see the "UP" with an arrow to the right of the wording, as well as "CARB SIDE".

I also chose to orient the boot clamps so that they face the left side of the bike. This provides much better access as you do not have to battle with coolant hoses. You may also want to switch from the original equipment Phillips head screws to stainless steel Allen head cap screws. The advantage here is twofold; stainless steel will not corrode as easily and you can use a ball end Allen wrench to facilitate the tightening/loosening of the fasteners.

Here, the clamps have been reoriented but I have not yet switched to the Allen head cap screws (and have since done so).

Pro Tip: Use silicone to lubricate the boots before installing them on the carburetors and cylinder heads. The silicone will help them slide onto the metal but will also help them to seal. Do not use wheel bearing grease (as someone did to my boots). Petroleum grease will cause the boots to soften and deteriorate.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Check your Water

Although it could refer to the cooling system (radiator), I'm looking right at you, Mr. Battery.

Autumn has hit Chicago and day time temperatures now vary between the upper 40s and low 70s. When it's toward the lower end of that scale, any issues you might have, with the battery, will manifest themselves quickly. VTRs are power hogs on start-up. If your battery is weak, you're going to discover that fact post-haste.

I discovered that the electrolyte had fallen to low levels by trying to start the VTR on a chilly day (~48º F - a week or so ago). A couple of cranks and it was obvious that the motor wasn't going to start using the starter motor. I am fortunate enough to park in a parking garage. All I had to do, to get the motor running, was to walk the bike up the ramp, snick it into second gear and coast down, popping the clutch along the way. The engine fired right up and I was on my way.

The following day (a Saturday), I took a closer look at the battery to see if it really was low on electrolyte or if it was no longer viable. Sure enough, all of the cells were low (below the top of the plates). Fortunately, I had some distilled water handy. Using a small funnel (a syringe, without needle, will work, too), I topped off each cell. It was very helpful to use a flashlight to illuminate the battery from behind. That makes seeing the electrolyte level very easy. Fill each cell to the level indicator, as printed on the battery side, and then put the battery on a charger.

Now, if your battery is a sealed unit, you obviously cannot add water to it. In this case, it's best to have it load tested (to see if it's still good). Any chain auto parts store (Auto Zone) will be able to load test it for you.

Should you need a new battery on short notice, I found that Batteries Plus stocks a battery that will fit the VTR (at least my local Batteries Plus store did). They do have to charge it so if you need one, be sure to give them some advance notice.

Pro Tips:
While the battery is out, take this opportunity to clean the terminals (baking soda & water works well here) on both the battery and cables. You can also clean the battery box, if necessary, too. Corrosion will limit the electrical system's ability to charge the battery.

Use distilled water only. Tap water has minerals in it that can cause the battery to become less efficient.

I have one of those Black & Decker Snake Lights. It makes illuminating the battery, from behind, a hands-free chore. If you don't have something similar, enlist the help of a friend or family member.

You will need a way to meter the distilled water as you fill the battery. Overfilling can cause problems. Use a small funnel, plastic syringe or turkey baster to ensure that only the proper amount of distilled water enters each cell. If you over fill, you can't simply dump the excess out. That's acid in there!

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to clean & repair the rear brake switch

Like a lot of you, I generally jump on the VTR, fire it up and ride. However, the Motorcycle Safety Class (I took) teaches you to run through a "pre-ride" check list (check the operation of basic things; lights, switches, throttle, brakes, etc.) . Fortunately, I do this at least once a week. I discovered that my rear brake light switch was no longer operational. Fearing that a new switch would be expensive (more on that later), I decided to take mine apart to determine if it could be fixed before shelling out for a new one. By the way, the front brake micro-switch was still working so I could activate the brake light when stopping or slowing.

Here's the switch which is just inboard of the right foot peg (and nicely exposed to any water thrown by the rear tire). To remove the switch, I used a pair of needle nose pliers to remove the return spring from the brake lever pivot. You can leave the spring hanging from the switch, if you wish. Remove the right side bodywork panel and set it aside where it won't get damaged. Locate the switch's wiring connector (which is behind the turn signal relay) in its recess/support (the relay is to the rear and above the battery). Release the locking hook and separate the connector halves. Holding the knurled adjuster with an index finger & thumb, rotate the switch body, counter-clockwise, until you can pull the entire switch assembly from the circular lug (welded to the frame). You can now remove the return spring (if you haven't already), knurled adjuster and lower rubber water seal from the switch body. Set those parts aside, in a safe place.

Now the more difficult part of the process; pealing back the upper seal and removing the internals from the switch body. I have no pictures of this (sorry) and it will be hard to visualize unless you have the switch in front of you.

The upper seal can be pulled back from the top of the switch. However, the protective wiring sleeve is molded to the wires so that the protective sleeve will not slide. So, pulling back on the sealing cap will put undue stress on the wires at the top of the switch. I used a small screw driver to gently fold the cap back, thus turning it inside out, over the protective sleeve. Now you should have full access to the top of the switch body.

At the top of the switch (again no pictures - sorry) there is a white plastic plug held in the switch body (black plastic) by two protruding tabs. These tabs lock the plug in place by snapping into corresponding square holes in the switch body. You almost need three hands to release one of the tabs with a very small, flat-bladed screwdriver while squeezing the top of the switch body into an oval shape which (hopefully) will allow the other tab to release. It took me a few tries before coming loose. Resist the urge to pull on the wires, you may separate them from the flat, metal electrodes within the switch (thus compounding your issues).

Once you get the switch body to release the tabs on the plug, you'll see this:

Sorry for the poor picture quality, my cell phone camera was having trouble focusing on the small parts.

Here's a (somewhat) better image of the very dirty switch electrodes:

And the switch plunger:

It's pretty obvious that the issue is filthy electrical connection points but a closer inspection reveals actual wear:

Here's the switch plunger after being cleaned with a piece of Scotch-Brite. Notice the two grooves worn into the metal band on the plunger. The opposite side was worse (although hard to see):

On this side, there is an actual low spot where wear and corrosion have left a void. It obvious that the switch has been in one, un-adjusted position for its entire life. Given the fact that I will most likely have to properly adjust the switch, upon re-installation, the electrodes should not ride in those wear groves (hopefully).

I cleaned the (delicate) electrodes with some distilled white vinegar (which almost every household should have - if not, it's very cheap at the grocery store). You may also use fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Here they are after a chemical cleaning:

The tarnish is gone but there is still some actual dirt. So, I used a piece of 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove the rest of the dirt. The ends of the electrodes are bent into a "v" shape so they will encircle the metal cylinder on the plunger. Using the folded edge of the sandpaper, I was able to get into the "v" and remove the remaining corrosion.

Ready for re-assembly.

I used the same piece of Scotch-Brite to clean the inside of the switch body. Simply place the plunger between the two electrodes and hold the plunger in place while sliding the switch body back into position. The electrodes also fit within recesses in the plug. Be sure they have not popped out. Orient the square holes so that the locking tabs snap into place. I used some silicone, on the switch body, to help the wiring harness cap seal better. I did the same with the lower sealing boot. See the red arrows.

The pink arrow indicates the knurled adjuster and the yellow arrow indicates the return spring. Installation is the reverse of removal; place the adjuster into the frame lug (you may need to remove the lower seal to get the switch body through the adjuster), screw the switch into the adjuster (clockwise), replace the lower seal (if necessary), hook the spring onto the switch plunger and then use needle-nose pliers to replace the spring onto the brake lever pivot arm. Don't forget to check the adjustment! To do so, plug the switch wiring connector back into the main harness (and secure the connector into the recess/support). Turn on the ignition (the headlight and tail light should illuminate). Press down on the brake pedal and observe the brake light. If the light comes on with the pedal depressed and goes off when the pedal is released, you're done.

If the brake light does not come on at all, the switch is too low (too close to the brake lever pivot). Hold the switch body steady and turn the adjuster clockwise (which will raise the switch body). Continue to test and adjust until the switch works properly.

If the brake light is on and stays on, the switch is too high (too far from the brake lever pivot). Hold the switch body steady and rotate the adjuster counter-clockwise (which will lower the switch body). Continue to test and adjust until the switch works properly.

Feel free to leave questions or comments in the Comments section. I'll do my best to respond to everyone.

Also, remember the fear about expensive switches and their availability? Total over-reaction. The switch is still available, from Honda (part #: 35350-MK3-405), for about $10 (US) as of this writing. I'll be ordering a new one so that when/if this one dies, a new one will replace it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Haulin' yer Stuff

Over the past five years or so, I've commuted on various two wheeled vehicles. For the most part, I've been able to travel pretty lightly. Only for about two years did I require some type of water proof container to ensure that something electronic wasn't subjected to precipitation. During that time, I opted for a Outdoor Research dry bag and then switched over to a Seal Line messenger bag. Well, I've now opted for something else; a Wolf Tail bag made by Wolfman Luggage.

One of the reasons I switched away from the messenger bag was that is interfered with my jacket's ability to ventilate. In the Summer, that's not such a good thing. Secondly, the messenger bag's strap ground dirt into my hi-viz jacket making it look grungy. Fortunately, Shout! stain remover, a soft scrub brush and some elbow grease seems to get the jacket quite clean. I just don't like having to do it once a month. Additionally, I'm back to traveling "light" now that I can use my company's VPN to remotely connect to my laptop (which is secured to my desk via cable lock).

Granted, there are a few options when it comes to tail bags and there are waterproof ones out there. However, I wanted something that would fit on the rear of the VTR's seat as I had given up on fabricating a rear rack that would easily (the key word being easily) attach to the bike itself. I also took into account that I would be able to use the bag on my other bike, a Suzuki DR650SE. If that was not a consideration, I most likely would have gone with something like the Wolfman Peak tail bag. The Peak is smaller and would be a perfect fit for the VTR as it's dimensions are identical to the rear of the saddle (aft of the cross strap). However, it is not as easy to attach/remove as is the Wolf Tail. The Peak would require two straps to go under the saddle. Also, the Peak uses "gutter hooks" (their words) to secure the bag to the bike. If you choose to use the under saddle straps, the Peak straps have to be threaded through the rectangular buckles and then cinched down. The Wolf Tail uses elastic "shock" cord with hooks. It's as simple as putting the bag on the saddle and attaching the hooks. It shouldn't take more than a minute (whereas the Peak could take several minutes). The links provided (above), for the specific bags, have mounting instructions and video links. Check them out if you're seriously interested.

The other concern was the amount of space. In retrospect, I most likely would have been able to get everything I carry (which isn't much) into the Peak. However, for a dual sport ride, it's nice to have the additional space.

My daily "stuff" consists of;
  • rain jacket
  • rain pants
  • external hard drive
  • phone charging/USB cable
  • keys (on a carabiner)
  • pen
  • waterproof over-boots
  • security badge (building access)
  • lunch (usually an apple and some yogurt)

The only thing I am not carrying now is the liner for my Olympia Bushwacker jacket. When it becomes cool enough, the liner will take the place of the rain jacket/pants combo. It will most likely take up more space but certainly won't fill the Wolf Tail.

Here are some pictures of the bag on the VTR and a couple by itself:

Here's the bag in "expanded" mode:


Here are a couple of close-up images showing the elastic straps and hook ends:

I'm not thrilled about the hook resting on the bodywork. I may try to make something to span between the turn signal mount and the reflector mount.

Here, the red arrows indicate the location of the elastic cords on the inside of the bag. The yellow arrow indicates the "shortening knot" I tied so the rear hook holds the bag tight to the saddle. I know things are a little hard to see, sorry.

Here's my cycling rain gear in its waterproof bag. My electronics are in there as well. The sides of the bag are supported by pieces of black plastic ("stiffeners"). They can be removed if you'd prefer the bag keep a low profile:

The top of the bag has a nice zippered, mesh pocket for keys and the like:

Here's the bag off of the bike. It carries like a small suitcase with the handle at the top. If you look closely, you can see "D" rings where the handle attaches to the bag (there's another set at the opposite end). So, if you wanted to carry a strap with hook ends, you could carry the bag over your shoulder.

The bag is not waterproof which is why I pack things in my cycling rain suit stuff sack and carry an eight (8) liter waterproof bag. However, it is water resistant (and I tested it). An inmate at Adventure Rider states that he applies 303 Aerospace Fabric Guard which makes the bag waterproof (or about as water resistant as can be). I've used the bag for a week: so far, so good.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Temperatures and Airflow - Pt. II

Alright, a while back I was postulating on the VTR's cooling system, coolant temperatures and airflow through the radiator. It's been pretty hot in Chicago-land, so far, this Summer. While July wasn't the hottest on record, it was pretty close. I've seen more 100º F days this year than I've seen since I've lived in the area (~20 years). The VTR continues to handle the heat with aplomb, it's me that worries about it.

I did check the system from a very basic stand point; the radiator is free of external debris that might be clogging the fins (and preventing airflow), if I ground the wire that runs from the fan to the thermo-switch, the fan does run (so the fan motor is OK), the radiator is properly grounded (so that when the switch does activate, the fan should come on) and the switch measures close to infinite ohms (resistance) when cold (as it should). What I have not tested is if the switch itself does work. This would require it being removed from the radiator and heated in a liquid until either it activates (resistance goes to zero) or the liquid reaches a temperature beyond the point where it should activate (which would indicate a failed switch). Obviously, I'll wait until riding season is over since I don't seem to have an issue, right now.

Additionally, we're dealing with a ~23 year old radiator. It's possible that it needs an internal flush to ensure that all of the cooling tubes are clear and functional. It's also possible that the coolant is way beyond its service life and is no longer efficiently conducting heat. Lastly, the thermostat could used to be replaced, if it's original equipment (which I suspect it is).

Again, due to the fact that the cooling system seems to be doing it's job, all of this can wait for Winter.