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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Commuter Gripe #1

It's been a while since I've been so wound up about commuting. Generally, I try to adopt a "Quaalude" attitude during the morning and evening rides so that I don't incinerate my tooth enamel by grinding my teeth. However, I've encountered the "Good Samaritan" too many times now to be silent anymore.

The "GS" is the person that stops traffic to allow someone to pull out from a side road or parking lot. Generally, if the "Entering Vehicle" stays in front of the "GS", it's OK. Traffic is momentarily slowed but no one is really in any danger except the GS (may be rear ended if someone is following too closely). When this occurs on a four lane non-divided highway and the "GS" stops traffic in their lane to allow "EV" to cross, traffic in the other lane but moving in the same direction as "GS" (green arrow) is now endangered. STOP PLAYING TRAFFIC COP you knucklehead! You have created a situation where not only have you put yourself in danger, from being rear ended, but you have also endangered people traveling in the same direction as you (but in the other lane - green arrow) as well as the person trying to cross traffic (EV).

What is the motivation here!? Are you feeling guilty because you cut someone off? Goodness knows you'll accelerate like crazy to keep another commuter from getting in front of you. Maybe you're genuinely a good person and are just being nice. Do you realize the danger you're creating for two (green arrow & EV), if not more, of your fellow motorists!?

Honestly, if you want to do this, go to Traffic School and become a Public Safety officer. Maybe next time you're in the grocery store you can allow someone to cut in line in front of you (and then incur the wrath of those behind you in line). Just STOP DOING IT before you get someone injured or worse.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Temperatures and Airflow

While I'm still very happy with the performance of the VTR, one thing concerns me (a little); overheating. There were times, during my previous commute, where the water temperature, as indicated by the dash gauge, crept towards the top end of the indicator zone (without entering the red portion). The ambient temperatures, at the time, were in the 70s (F). My immediate concern was what was going to happen when ambient temperatures reached into the 90s (F) or higher.

The obvious thing was to ensure that the thermostat was functioning properly. It is. The second concern was that the radiator was free of external debris (that is, the fins are not clogged with dirt or bugs or the fins aren't all bent). It is. The third concern was that the radiator is not clogged internally. It doesn't seem to be. Fourth, ensure that the coolant hasn't broken down and is up to the job. It is.

After all of those considerations, it seems that airflow, or lack thereof, is the key component to keeping the VTR cool. The bike does have a thermostatically controlled fan. However, it's hard to hear if it's running (when the motor is hot). I know some owners have retro-fitted a manual fan switch so that they can control when the fan operates, if they think the thermostatic switch has failed or if they don't want to wait for it to trigger the fan. Recently, I've been in some traffic situations where having a manual fan switch would have been beneficial. My wife and I recently rode thru some of Chicago's northern suburbs. The ride 'out' was relatively slow due to traffic and traffic signals. There were several times when I was keeping a wary eye on the temperature gauge. However, the ride home, following the same streets, had less traffic and we managed to time the traffic signals so that we were stopped less often. The needle on the temperature gauge never moved above half-way (the ambient temperature was higher, too).

So, it would seem that air flowing thru the radiator, regardless of ambient temperature, is important in keeping the VTR cool. My current commute is very conducive to constant movement. That is, traffic flows quite well and quickly thus aiding air flow thru the radiator. However, it wouldn't take much (an accident or a freight train - there are several grade crossings on my commute) to turn an eight mile (twenty minute) ride into a coolant boiling catastrophe. Perhaps a manual fan override switch is in order, now that Summer is here (or will be in a few days). Stay tuned for another "How To" post...

Monday, June 11, 2012


Well, it's been just over a week of commuting to my new office location. I have to say that the VTR has performed flawlessly and I'm glad I decided to buy it. As with any roads that lead to a major airport, the traffic pace is quick and the flow can be heavy, especially in the afternoons. However, the VTR has been up to the task. I'm sure the NX125 would have really struggled. I am kind of curious about the Honda CB125R though. I would how that would have performed.

After a close inspection of the tires, during a wash, I noticed that they were pretty old (nine years for the front, twelve years for the rear). So, I took advantage of Motorcycle Superstore's Memorial Day sale and purchased a set of Bridgestone BT-45 Battleax tires. They come pretty highly recommended, from other VTR owners, as well as the general population of motorcycle tire purchasers (as indicated by the feedback on the web site). They seemed OK on this morning's ride (8 miles is not a large sample size). I did notice that they do not seem to be affected by the grooves left by the concrete grinder (one of the roads, on which I ride, was ground down to provide a smoother surface - as opposed to being re-surfaced). The old Bridgestones would wiggle a little while riding. Unfortunately, the grooves are in the direction of travel which is why the tires would track differently.

There is a possibility of thunderstorms this afternoon so I might even get a chance to see what the BT-45s are like in the rain. To be honest, I was hoping to scuff them in a little more before trying them out in the wet. New tires can be slick until the surface has been roughed up and it helps to have a few heat cycles, in them, was well. Fingers crossed that it stays dry (we could really use the rain though....)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More Noise

One of the few complaints I've had, concerning my VTR250R, is the lack of exhaust "note". It is exceptionally quiet and I have a hard time hearing it even when I'm sitting at a stop light (disclaimer; in an effort to avoid further damage to my hearing, I used to race loud cars, I wear Hearos foam ear plugs). So, in an effort to increase the exhaust note without being obnoxious, I removed a portion of the end cap. A big thanks goes to the guys on forum boards. A few of them have already done this and it does not require any carburetor work (re-jetting, etc.). It's a 'simple' muffler modification.

Thanks to forum-mate John, here's a great image of what we're going to accomplish:

image courtesy of John Hilmer
The upper muffler is a stock unit. The lower muffler, which is actually attached to the exhaust system on John's bike, has been modified. If you look closely at the upper muffler, you'll see a distinct ridge (most noticeable at about 7 o'clock). That's a weld line and makes a perfect locator for the larger (2") hole saw.


  • A lot of torque is generated by the drill (I used a 1/2" drill but I think a 3/8" would work OK, too). It is not uncommon to have the bit catch and wrench the drill from your hand. Hold the drill securely.
  • The muffler is round which makes it hard to clamp in a vice or other securing device. So, leave the muffler on the bike, for now.
  • Most hole saws work best at lower RPM (200). You don't need to be at maximum RPM of the drill to get good results.
  • Be sure to use some cutting lubricant (drain oil, WD-40, Marvel Mystery Oil, etc.).

1/2" drill with stabilizing handle and 2" hole saw
The above image shows the set-up I used for the hole saws. I happen to have a auxiliary handle for my drill. In my previous experience with holes saws, I find it useful to have the extra handle. If you don't have one, be sure to maintain a firm grip on the drill and use a lower RPM. That way, if the bit does catch in the work, it won't wrench the drill from your hand. Do Not use the trigger lock (for obvious reasons).

Above, I've started cutting using that previously described welding ridge as a guide. I'm not using a pilot bit because there's nothing for the bit to drill into. Use some newspaper or cardboard to catch the metal chips (there will be a lot) and the cutting oil drips (the oil may run down the underside of the muffler and drip, to the ground, near the swing arm pivot. Make sure you have enough coverage). Note: wear hearing protection. The saw, cutting through the steel, makes a lot of noise.

Here, I've completed the cut. Notice the amount of metal chips on the muffler. There's at least twice as much on the ground and maybe three times as much inside the muffler.

Now, make the second cut. You have a choice here; 1 - you can use a 1.125" ( 1 1/8") hole saw which as an inner diameter of 1". The inner diameter, of the hole saw, is the same size as the outer diameter of the tube that protrudes from the end cap. However, the tube that's hidden behind the end cap has a diameter of 1.125" (1 1/8") which is the same size as the hole saw.

If you look closely, you can see the outer diameter, of the protruding tube, is shiny and has had some material removed. However, as you cut through the end cap, you cut right into the tube on the opposite side  of the end cap, resulting in this:

If you would prefer not to cut into that inner tube, you could go with choice 2 and select the next larger size hole saw; 1.250" (1 1/4"). This will allow you to cut through the end cap and not cut into the hidden tube. However, you will not have anything to help you center the hole saw. If you're of steady hand, you should be able get the cut started, albeit slowly, and get the results as shown in the first image (provided by John). Note the amount of metal chips generated by the cut. There's more hiding inside the muffler can.

Here's the (small) piece that we removed. To complete the job, you're going to need to remove the muffler (unless you don't mind shooting metal chips out the back of your bike - actually, given the small amount of air coming from the motor, there may not be enough pressure to do that). Unbolt the muffler from the hanger and loosen the clamp.

view from ground level
If your VTR is anything like mine, it's going to take some wiggling of the muffler to loosen it from the sealing gasket. The bike is going to want to roll backwards. Resist the urge to use your left foot as a chock. If the muffler suddenly comes loose, it's going to hit the inside of your left knee. And, that's going to hurt, bad (I did it twice so I know).

Here I have the muffler removed. The red arrow indicates the sealing gasket. Hopefully yours is in as good a condition. I used a little Scotch-Brite to remove the surface rust. If yours is shot, you may want to consider replacing it. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some asbestos in that gasket. Use caution when dealing with it.

Removing the metal debris, from within the muffler should be pretty simple. I just kept shaking the muffler until chips stopped falling out. However, due to the shape of the end cap, chips can get trapped. I have one of those small magnets on a (telescoping) handle. A few passes collected a lot of additional chips. I was surprised at how much more came out. I purchased a drum shaped grinding stone to help smooth the ragged edges from the hole saws. In retrospect, I should have purchased a cone shaped stone instead. I have a Roto-Zip tool and elected to buy the drum shaped stone from Dremel. However Vermont-American makes grinding stones that will work in a drill (they have a larger diameter arbor). V-A sells both drum and cone shaped stones. Again, choose the cone shape.

Results: Upon initial start up I was a little disappointed as the sound wasn't that much greater than the unmodified muffler. However, after the ride to work this morning, I'm pretty happy. The exhaust note can clearly be heard (over traffic and through my ear plugs). I seem to notice a "drone" right around 4500 RPM but it quickly dissipates above 5000 RPM. I also think I will try some muffler paint or BBQ grille paint before the exposed metal starts to rust.

Tools used:
  • 3/8" drive ratchet
  • 12mm socket
  • 12mm open/box end wrench
  • ball peen hammer
  • drift
  • 2" hole saw with arbor (Milwaukee brand)
  • 1 1/8" (alt. 1 1/4") hole saw with arbor (Milwaukee brand)
  • 1/2" drill with aux. handle
  • Grinding stone (cone shaped - Vermont-American)
  • Magnet on a telescoping handle

Monday, May 14, 2012

Heat Sinking the Regulator/Rectifier

One of the weak points of the 1988-90 Honda VTR250 is the regulator/rectifier.  The rectifier converts the AC current, created by the motorcycle’s alternator, into DC current to charge the battery. Additionally, the regulator ensures that the battery is not over charged by “dumping” extraneous voltage to ground. In the process of regulating and rectifying, the unit can get very hot. Having it mounted just aft of the rear cylinder, within the VTR’s bodywork, is not helpful either. When a regulator/rectifier fails, due to overheating, it usually causes the CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition) unit to fail as well. Usually, there’s a distinct smell when these components fail (or “fry”) and there might even be some melted wiring.

As you can imagine, this is not an inexpensive issue to fix. It’s even more concerning on a VTR due to the fact that the regulator/rectifier is a rare object and commands a high price (whether new or used). So, in an effort to help the regulator/rectifier shed some of the heat it generates, attaching a heat sink would be beneficial. There are various ways in which this can be accomplished. The following details the steps I chose.

The image below illustrates the first dilemma. The image is oriented such that the valve cover, of the rear cylinder, is at the bottom of the picture. The red arrow indicates the location of the coils. The yellow arrow indicates the location of the regulator/rectifier. I estimated the distance between the two to be about ½” (0.5”). That’s not a lot of room in which to squeeze a heat sink (and have it be effective).

The second dilemma isn’t so obvious. If you look closely at the image above, you will notice that the side of the regulator/rectifier that faces the coils is the one where the circuitry is installed and sealed. This side of the unit will not be good at transferring heat. What’s the solution? “Flip the unit over and mount it the other way”, you say. Not so fast my friend. If you choose to do that, you’ll end up with the issue you see illustrated below. The yellow arrow indicates the gap, created by flipping the unit, between the mounting ears of the regulator/rectifier and the support bracket. Additionally, the mounting studs are now too short and there’s no room on which to thread the nut.

So, we need to figure out how to 1) secure the “flipped” regulator/rectifier to the support bracket, 2) secure a heat sink to the regulator/rectifier and 3) space the support bracket such that there’s room to accommodate the heat sink between the coils and the regulator/rectifier.

Reconfiguring the support bracket to accept the “flipped” regulator/rectifier

The first thing that needs to occur is to remove the existing studs that hold the regulator/rectifier to the support bracket. The studs are spot welded to the bracket. I used a hack saw to cut between the bracket and the base of the studs. The yellow arrows in the image below indicate the stud bases.

Once the studs have been removed, you can replace them with M6-1.0 x 25 button head screws (I initially used Allen head cap screws but that causes clearance issues with electrical connectors – so, use something with a low profile). Secure the screws to the support bracket with an M6-1.0 nut and M6 flat washer. The nut/washer combination acts as a spacer for the mounting ears on the regulator/rectifier (as indicated by the red arrow in the image below).

Securing the heat sink to the regulator/rectifier

I was able to find a heat sink out of an old personal computer. If you have an old PC lying around, it might have what you’re looking for. You could always check with a work station services tech at your place of business or ask the neighborhood ‘geek’ if he/she has an old computer you could pillage. Computers are very recyclable and most municipalities have recycling centers. I highly doubt they would mind if you pilfered a couple of machines for parts. The last resource is the internet. Lots of companies sell heat sinks. Depending on the material, they’re pretty cheap. You’re looking for one that’s about 1.75” (W) x 2.5” (L) x 1” (H). The key dimensions are the height and width. There’s not enough room for a heat sink with more than one inch of height. Additionally, the width must be less than two inches or it may interfere with the mounting screws. I had to cut mine down so it was 1.75” wide and less than one inch high.

Heat sinks are manufactured to be attached to computer chips so they’re already lapped (very smooth/flat) on the mounting surface. If you have to cut one down to size, be sure to keep the mounting surface free from gouges and burrs. I used some electrical contact cleaner and a piece of Scotch-Brite to clean the mounting surface of the regulator/rectifier. There’s more dirt there than you think. I chose to use Arctic Silver Alumina Thermal Adhesive (part # AATA-5G from, ~$8). It’s a two-part ceramic epoxy specifically formulated to bond heat sinks. Even though it comes in small quantities, you don’t need much. After scrubbing the regulator/rectifier, I cleaned the mounting surface with rubbing alcohol (per the Arctic Silver directions).

I wiped down the mounting surface of the heat sink with rubbing alcohol as well. I then mixed the epoxy per the manufacturer’s instructions.

The amount I used, total, had to be about the size of a penny (diameter and thickness). Arctic Silver recommends that the adhesive be the thickness of two sheets of paper (that’s not much) between the components. Since the heat sink is lapped, I applied the adhesive to that surface. The “pot” time (amount of time you have to apply the adhesive once it’s mixed) is only 3-4 minutes (very short), so work quickly. I put the heat sink and the regulator/rectifier together and, with a very slight twisting motion of the heat sink, made sure that the two parts had made good contact. I used one of those Vice-Grip Quik-Clamps to hold the parts together while the adhesive cured (initial cure is sixty minutes, total cure is about four hours). Now is a good time to go grab some lunch, do some laundry, check the scores, whatever.

After the initial cure, the adhesive has set enough so that you may put the regulator/rectifier back on the support bracket and install the bracket on the bike. You can reuse the Honda flare nuts to secure the regulator/rectifier to the support bracket.

To provide additional space, between the coils and the heat sink, I used longer hex head cap screws (M6 – 1.0 x 35) and a 1/4” x 3/8” x 1/2” steel spacer.

Here you can see the lower fastener with the spacer between the support bracket and the mounting tab on the frame. Note: the upper fastener captures a grounding lug from the wiring harness. Be sure that the lug is between the spacer and the mounting tab on the frame.

 Here’s everything in-place before the electrical connections were re-attached.

Now that the upper mount, of the support bracket, is spaced away from the frame mounting tab, make sure the wiring harness is not pinched between the support bracket and the frame. I simply pulled the harness out, away from the frame, so that it rests outward of the bracket. Here, everything has been re-attached.

The heat sink is indicated by the yellow arrow.

I estimate there is about .25” clearance between the heat sink and  the coil support bracket.  There appears to be about .5” clearance, after re-installing the side cover (bodywork), between it and the support bracket. Even if I push inward on the bodywork, it does not contact the support bracket. Problem solved (hopefully)!

Parts List:
2 - M6-1.0 x 25 button head cap screws
2 - M6-1.0 x 35 hex head cap screws
2 - M6-1.0 nuts 
4 - M6 flat washers
2 - 1/4" x 3/8" x 1/2" steel spacers
1 - Arctic Silver Alumina Ceramic Epoxy
1 - Heat Sink (approx. 1.75" x 2.5" x 1.0")

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Some thoughts on changing oil

So, I took the opportunity to do an oil change on the VTR. Now that I know the drill, I'll be able to better document it the next time I do one (I'm guessing some time in the mid-Summer). If you need immediate data, refer to the Lubrication (Chapter 2) section of the Shop Manual on the Resources page. The directions are straight-forward and accurate. Thought #1: use a shallow drain pan with plenty of under engine clearance. I used one of those "self-contained" pans that have a big screw-off lid. Under that lid was a drain grate. It was too close to the bottom of the motor to easily get the oil filter out. Thought #2: have three quarts of motor oil. Even though the manual says "2.11 US quarts at oil filter change", it's more like 2.5 US quarts. Thought #3: ensure that the washer, between the spring and the filter, is retained. It appears that the previous owner did not notice that the washer was stuck to the old filter (and it was discarded with that filter). They're only a couple of bucks from Honda but now I have to remember to order one before the next oil change (while I'm at it, I'll get a filter support o-ring, too). Thought #4: ensure the the crush washer, on the drain plug, is good. Even though my VTR has only 5600 miles, it's seen at least three or four oil changes (hopefully more). The crush washer on the drain plug wasn't in very good condition. I replaced it with a copper spark plug indexing washer. Thought #5: be sure that the bike is vertical (to level ground) when checking the oil level in the site glass. Even when the sump is full, the site glass is empty when the bike is on it's side stand.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Hey, not bad. That number represents the miles per gallon I achieved on my first tank of gas. Granted, I didn't go as far as I could have (I filled up around 160 miles showing on the trip odometer) but it was far enough to get a pretty accurate reading on fuel economy. I will say this; I used a relatively low (6000 rpm) shift point for each up-shift and rarely accelerated heavily.The VTR is easily capable of keeping up with traffic, whether it be accelerating away from a stop or cruising with the flow, and I sometimes wonder how the NX125 I had did so well. Earlier today I was thinking about commuting, in general, on a motorcycle and came to the conclusion that for a (sub)urban environment, 200cc is almost the minimum displacement. This provides the ability to stay with traffic or extricate yourself from "situations". 250cc seems to be just "that much" better. While I obviously used a 125cc for the 2011 riding season, there were several times where I felt I could be in serious trouble if things didn't work out for me. I have yet to feel that way about the VTR. Of course, the trade-off with an increase in engine displacement is usually a decrease in fuel economy. So, the 200-250cc range should provide plenty of power and still return good-to-great fuel economy (depending on the number of cylinders, the engine's state of tune and the rider's ability to use the throttle with restraint). I need to check a couple of things, still, on the VTR to ensure it's running as it should; spark plugs, oil change & air filter change. The oil in the site glass still looks pretty clean. But, it's been in the sump an unknown (to me) amount of time based on statements made by the previous owner. I can fix that this weekend. I going to guess the spark plugs that are in the motor are the originals. While they still seem to be working properly, it sure couldn't hurt to check their status. The air filter is something I've wanted to experiment with. I use "experiment" lightly in this context. It would seem that the stock air filter is pretty expensive and only available from Honda. Some have used a 1996-2000 Honda Civic air filter (1.6 liter motor) to replace the filter media in the VTR. I'll have to look into this and will post my findings. Up until now though, the VTR has been spot on.

Edit: The second tank was even better; 70 mpg. I hit reserve @ 170 miles on the odometer. I've since changed the oil and am aiming to do the air filter asap. We'll see how things go from here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Allow me to introduce: Park

I haven't owned that may bikes in  my lifetime. I started out on a 1986 Honda Reflex (TLR200) that a good friend was kind enough to purchase for me. I think the selling price was $400 and, as far as I was concerned, the perfect starter bike. I dropped the counter-shaft sprocket one or two teeth, to make it even more trials oriented, and then headed out to ride the power lines, in Massachusetts, near my friend's home. I even recall flipping it and watching the rear fender break in half. My friend was kind enough to fabricate a "break-away" rear fender out of some MX after-market front fender. He mounted it with rubber grommets and the mounting holes were open on the bottom. It popped off very easily and I never broke another body piece on that bike. If you haven't guessed, my friend is an engineer. Some years later, when I rode the Reflex on the road for a short time, I bought a new rear fender from Honda. It wasn't cheap and I regretted braking the original.

I digress. Every bike I've owned, with the exception of the VTR and my wife's scooter, has been a street-legal version of an off-road bike; 1986 Honda Reflex, 1997 Suzuki DR350SE, 1999 Suzuki DR350SE, 1992 Suzuki DR250SE, 2002 Honda Reflex (scooter), 1989 Honda TransAlp, 1988 Honda NX125 and now 1989 Honda VTR250. The only bike that comes with a "park" position on the ignition switch is the VTR. However, this feature is apparently prevalent on other street bikes. If you're still not sure of which I speak, here's the ignition switch itself:

From the top, going in counter-clockwise direction, is On, Off, P and Lock. The switch is in the Lock position in the image above. What I did not know was that if you leave the ignition switch in the P position, the  taillight is left on (to warn other motorist's of your presence, at night). Well, if you're unaware of this feature, or by some chance leave the ignition switch in this position and don't notice the taillight on, you're going to have a rude awakening several hours later; a dead battery.

Naturally, I managed to engage the P position on the first day I rode the VTR to the office. So, leaving for home that evening involved a lot of frustrated flailing as I removed all of the bodywork in an effort to diagnose the issue. I even called the former owner in an effort to gain some insight. It wasn't until I posted for help on the VTR250 forums, as well as on Adventure Rider, that I was alerted to the "night park" position of the ignition switch. I had to call my wife for a ride home, hook up the trailer, drive back to the office, load the bike, drive home, unload the bike and put the trailer away. That was a lot of work for an evening that should have been pretty quiet. I did hook the battery up to my Battery Tender Jr. in the hopes that it would be fully charged the next morning. When it wasn't, I was pretty sure I was going to have to source a new battery. Fortunately, a Batteries Plus store had one in stock  and that BP store was in the strip mall next to my wife's store. However, when I returned home that evening, the battery was fully charged and has been OK since.

A fellow VTR owner suggested pulling the fuse, which is located behind the ignition cover switch, in an effort to keep from unintentionally discharging the battery in the future. A stupendous idea, in my opinion. And, in case I do get stranded someplace and need the taillight to warn other motorists, there's a spare fuse that I can put back in the appropriate slot, to activate the taillight. What's ironic is that there's hardly anything in the shop manual regarding this. Basically, just a way to test for continuity, of the P position, in the ignition switch. It's the owner's manual that has the real information. Unfortunately, I didn't read through that before riding  That's a hard way to learn about a cool(?) feature. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Brake Bleeding

While I was cleaning the VTR, I also took the opportunity to bleed the (front) brake. I observed that the brake fluid, in the reservoir site glass, was the color of maple syrup. That color usually indicates old fluid and old fluid usually has a higher water content than is recommended. Chapter 15 - Hydraulic Brake (on the Resources page) outlines the brake fluid replacement procedure as well as the air bleeding procedure. If you have a power bleeder, the instructions are on page 15-3 (and you won't need to even bother reading this). If you do not have a power bleeder and will be bleeding "old school", I base this procedure on the instructions under AIR BLEEDING which are found on page 15-4. Note: I would suggest reading through the procedure, first, to become familiar with it and tools/supplies needed.

Tools/Supplies needed:

  • Fresh DOT4 brake fluid
  • Brake Cleaning fluid
  • Paper towel or rags
  • Rubber band or long twist-tie or long zip-tie
  • Medical syringe (without needle) or paper towel/rags/old sponge
  • 8mm box end (bleeder) wrench
  • 12" (approx.) of clear 1/8" I.D. hose
  • Container for old brake fluid - small glass juice bottle or used oil container
  • Phillips head screwdriver

(btw, I totally forgot to take any pictures - sorry).

There's no sense in bleeding all of the old fluid through the brake line and the caliper. So, we'll remove it instead. Note: you'll want to ensure that the brake lever is not moved while draining the reservoir. If necessary, place something between the lever and the grip to keep the lever from moving.

  • Orient the bike so that the bake fluid reservoir is level. You may be able to do this by rotating the handlebars in a certain way or you may have to use a chock or lean the bike against a wall.
  • To prepare the reservoir for bleeding, I fold up a piece of paper towel, length-wise, so that it's about 1" - 2" wide. I wrap this around the reservoir and hold it in place with a rubber band. Place the paper towel wrap so that it's just under the lid. This "wrap" will hopefully prevent any brake fluid from running down the side of the reservoir and dripping on the controls or on the bike's paint (fyi - brake fluid will remove paint very quickly).
  • Remove the lid from the reservoir. You'll need a Phillips head screwdriver. In addition to the lid, there will be a plastic backer and then the rubber seal. There will most likely be brake fluid on all three parts. Place them on a rag or piece of paper towel yet keep them handy (as we'll need them in a moment).
  • I use a medical syringe to remove as much of the old fluid as I can (fyi - syringes, without needles, are usually available at any drug store or medical supply store - if you cannot source a syringe, you can use paper towel or an old sponge). Brake fluid is considered hazardous waste. I place the used fluid into a glass container (juice bottle) but a used oil container would work, too. Since most brake fluid reservoirs have a low spot, it's inevitable that there will be some fluid left. I then use a piece of paper towel to absorb the remainder.
  • At this point, fill the reservoir with fresh DOT4 brake fluid (the shop manual will recommend that the can be new/sealed).  There's a fill line cast into the inside of the reservoir. Replace the rubber seal, backer and lid. Secure the lid with the two screws.
  • Remove the bleed screw cap/cover. Place the bleeder wrench over the bleed nipple on the caliper. Place the clear bleed hose on the bleed nipple. Route the open end of the hose into the container with the old fluid. Place the container so that it's close to but lower than the caliper (we want the fluid to drain into the container).
  • Kneeling in front of the front wheel, use your left hand to reach up and apply pressure to the brake lever. Hold the lever to maintain pressure. With your right hand, crack the bleeder screw open (a quarter turn is usually enough). Old fluid should appear in the hose and the lever should move toward and impact the grip. Hold the lever in place (at the grip) and tighten the bleeder screw. Release the brake lever. You have now pushed old fluid out of the brake line/caliper and sucked in new fluid (from the reservoir). Repeat this step until the fluid coming out of the bleed nipple is clean/clear. Note: you will probably need to repeat this step between five and ten times. However, the reservoir may not have the capacity to bleed the line and the caliper without a refill. Keep an eye on the site glass after every bleed step to ensure you do not run the reservoir dry (if you do, you'll suck air into the line and/or caliper and that's not good). When you see the brake fluid level in the site glass, refill the reservoir.
  • When the brake fluid coming out of the bleed nipple is clean/clear, tighten the bleed screw, remove the bleed hose and remove the bleed wrench. Use paper towel to absorb any fluid on/around the bleed screw (a shot of brake cleaning fluid will do the same thing). Replace the rubber bleed screw cap/cover.
  • Top off the reservoir (to the fill line cast into the inside of the reservoir) but do not overfill. Replace the rubber seal, backer and lid. Secure with the two screws. Wipe away any excess brake fluid with paper towel and/or brake cleaning fluid. Ensure that you have good pressure when squeezing the brake lever.

Depending on your use of the bike, you should be good for the next riding season or two.

A Good Cleaning

As promised, I stripped the VTR of its bodywork and gave it a wash. Here's the VTR, sans bodywork, ready for soap and water:

The engine got an application of foaming engine cleaner while I paid particular attention to the area near the counter-shaft sprocket. It appears that years of accumulated chain lube and dirt have made their mark:

That's the inside of the counter-shaft sprocket cover. I started out with a putty knife and then graduated to a toothbrush and Simple Green. Fortunately, the grime was still pretty soft and came off easily. Here's the corresponding picture showing the location of the counter-shaft sprocket cover:

If you look closely, you can see that the heat of the engine has caused the grime to creep downward from the counter-shaft sprocket towards the protrusion in the case for the shift shaft. This is what lead me to believe that the shift shaft seal was leaking. The chain guide, on the swing arm, (just visible to the right of the counter-shaft sprocket and partially obscured by the frame) was also quite messy. It's going to take a couple of clean-ups to get everything free of that greasy paste.

In an effort to keep wiring, and other items that don't enjoy a thorough soaking, mostly dry, I used a small sponge and a bucket of hot water (with car wash soap). That kept pools of water to a minimum and still enabled me to wash/rinse away years of accumulated dust and dirt. I used a direct application of Simple Green and a wheel brush on the wheels and tires. I've found that Simple Green does a nice job of cleaning road grime and brake dust. I also try to shy away from harsh chemicals because the run-off drains directly into a retention pond.

After allowing the VTR to drip-dry, for the most part, I used compressed air to finish the job. I'm glad I did because even though I tried very hard not to soak wiring and electrical connectors, I noticed that the junction point, for the tail light and rear turn signals, was very wet. Several blasts of air, from the compressor, resolved that. Here's the VTR after being dried off and having the bodywork re-hung. I also took the opportunity to give it a quick polish (I'm partial to Zymol but that's because I've had a bottle for years):

Afterwards, I took it for an extended cruise around my township. I did this mostly to become familiar with the bike as well as to ensure that I hadn't caused problems from the wash/soak. I'm glad I did because I discovered that the throttle cable adjuster was loose at the carburetors. It actually slipped out of the bracket. This caused a lot of slack at the throttle grip but I was able to ride home and fix it. VTR250: Reporting for commuter duty!