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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

63

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!