Tag Archives: maintenance

Track day tribulations

I keep assuring you, my dear readers, that I am not a mechanic. It is about time I write a post that helps illustrate that point.

The last track day I did on the RGV was not the biggest success. The bike was failing to accelerate in the top gears and by the “seat of the pants dyno” was even a little weak in the lower gears. Apart from some cursory inspections and a new set of spark plugs, I hadn’t really done much on the bike since the previous track day, so it was not much of a surprise.  I can’t even say “I should have known better”, because I do know better… As they say: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance”

Anyway, both the bike and I survived the day, so back at home, it was time to work out what went wrong… It didn’t take long – the left carburettor float bowl was leaking fuel. Put simply, the top cylinder was unable to get the fuel it needed when running at full throttle.  The float bowl o-ring had a gap if about 3mm, through which the fuel was able to escape.
Where the carburetors are situated, meant the fuel leak was relatively safe.  The fuel would fall on the crank case, which was hot enough for most of it to evaporate off.

The reason there was a gap in the o-ring was no mystery: I had cut it. Of course, I hadn’t done this without a good reason. At a previous track day I had to take the carburettor apart to clean one of the jets that had become blocked. The o-ring had stretched and no amount of careful prodding, cussing and holding my mouth correctly was going to get the o-ring to fit. One truism of track side maintenance has always been “No matter what spares you have with you, you’ll need something you don’t have.” Faced with the choice of “go home” or “improvise” I chose the latter and cut a small section of the o-ring out.

Why did the o-ring swell? Truthfully, I do not know.  I am guessing it reacted to something, but I could not correlate what the Internet tells me and anything that I remember doing.   I think I may have fitted the o-ring with some rubber grease, but that is designed not to react with it!  Most likely, I got some carby-cleaner on the o-ring and it  reacted to this, although I don’t know for certain.  As I had now discovered, it eventually returned to its normal size, thus leaving me with a gap.

Whilst on the matter of mechanical confessions… That day, when I refitted the carburettor, I broke the thread of the plastic choke nut. These are hollow, allowing the choke cable to pass through them. As a result they are incredibly easy to over-tighten and snap. Without it in place a lot more air would be drawn through the carburettor, causing the engine to run dangerously lean.

Plastic choke nut assembly

There was insufficient thread left on the choke nut to hold against the spring tension, but another RGV owner came up with a clever way of using cable ties to hold the choke nut in place. It was certainly a bodge job, but it easily held up on the day.

So, what did I learn from my mistakes? Lots of things, really!

  1. Do your preparation before the track day, not at it.
  2. If the manual doesn’t suggest using sealant or other consumables, then you probably shouldn’t.
  3. A twenty-four year old bike that you thrash when you ride it needs plenty of TLC/maintenance when you aren’t riding it.
  4. A post track day inspection and service is a good idea.
  5. If you can’t have the right spares with you, at least have plenty of cable-ties!

 

I must be getting old

Having successfully fixed the VFR I could not help but notice how much my neck and back had not appreciated the time spent in the garage. Years ago, I would have thought nothing of it, but I decided it was time to get a garage workshop stand to put the bikes on when doing work on them.

There are plenty of commercially available solutions. Some are air, hydraulic or electric powered lifters and some are merely a “bench” that the bike must be wheeled up and onto. Cheap(er) versions of these lifters are available on eBay too. Compared with the US and European markets, Australia’s low population and large geographic distribution means that low-priced options available in a bricks-and-mortar shop are not available here. I am sure there is nothing wrong with the eBay specials, but I could not find a cheap lifter with a platform length that I felt was suitable for my needs.

So, I decided to see if I could build a bench for a fraction of the price. Price was always going to be the largest factor in the build. If it were too dear, I might as well spend extra on an eBay special and hope it suited – I could always cheer myself up by playing on the lifter if it didn’t… Second largest factor, is my lack of finesse when building things out of timber. It had to be easy to construct and require minimal precision with cutting. I will always remind people that I am not a mechanic – but I place my mechanical skills above that of my carpentry skills!

Building a workbench out of steel was never an option – I don’t have a welder (yet) so armed with a printout of a sketch-up model that I had made, I went to the local hardware and timber supplier to discuss my idea. He took on the challenge as I laid it out to him – made some alterations to my original plan (mainly to add strength), and we got the price down to an acceptable level. Buoyed by an unjustified level of self-confidence and enough power tools to make the job easier, I set to work!

Leg length cutting jig

First job was to cut the six legs to the same length. To make it easier, I made up a small jig to help me position the circular saw. A drop saw, or a table saw would have been more accurate, but as I had neither, this has to suffice.

Three pairs of legs

Once cut to length, I joined the legs in pairs. To fasten the timber together, I was using long hex-headed screws . I chose to drill pilot holes, although because I was using pine, it should have been soft enough timber to not require them (according to the man at the hardware store…)

With the three pairs of legs made, I then attached the two length pieces.

Workbench taking shape

Next were two additional braces to support the surface of the bench. Suffering from a bout of OCD, I really would have liked the middle legs to be braced on both sides, thus enabling symmetry between the front and rear half of the stand, but we had quite literally only enough timber for the single sided brace. So the additional braces were placed halfway between the end braces and the middle. This means that they are further apart on one end of the bench.

Workbench with additional bracing

With the frame now complete, I added the top of the bench (thick plywood) and used a generous number of screws to hold it all together.

A longer beam then sits on top of the bench at one end, to act as a wheel stop and provide mounting points for tie-downs. (Or possibly something to swear at when I accidentally walk into it)

Just needs painting

I also added an eyelet bolt to the end of the workbench, to allow me the option of tethering the ramp to the table.

Last but not least, I added three thick coats of polyurethane varnish to the top of the bench in order to protect it from accidental oil and water spills. Job done!

As for loading the bike, that can be done singlehandedly, aided by the fact that the RGV is light and some forethought.

I fitted the tie downs to the bench first, hanging the loose end from the roof, ensuring the hooks were at approximately the right height to attach to the bike on the stand. Next step was to put the tie down loops around each handlebar of the bike. I fitted the ramp with the safety strap and most importantly moved the other bikes out of harms way in case it all went pear-shaped.

With these preparations in place, the rest was easy!

  1. Roll the bike into the stand until the front wheel his the stop.
  2. Hold the bike with one hand and hook the two tie down hooks to the straps.
  3. Take the slack out of each tie down, so the bike can’t fall over.

I then put the bike on the paddock stand and removed the tie downs, but that largely depends on what work you are going to do on the bike.
So, what am I doing? Well that’s a story for another time…

Fitting a new stator to the VFR

Last time, we discovered the cause of the VFR’s battery eating habit. According to the workshop manual, the stator coil was no longer functioning correctly. As you may have surmised, I left out most of the charging circuit tests that passed. There is beauty in brevity and my posts are rarely that!

The stator coil on the VFR is on the left hand side of the engine, mounted to the inside of the alternator cover. This means it is submerged in the engine oil. (I’m guessing that most four stroke motorcycles would be the same). So, to replace the stator, you will also need a new alternator gasket and an oil filter (as you end up doing an oil change).

As usual, you should read my disclaimer, if you feel inspired to give this work a go. As a comparison, this is probably the trickiest procedure that I have blogged about. – You have been warned!

Start by removing the two side cowlings and the connecting front piece from the bike. These require a 5mm Allen key and patience as you struggle with the plastic clips that go together easily the first time and then deteriorate, get jammed up with road grime and go brittle with time.

Once the panels are removed, warm the bike up for a minute or two. The idea is to not make the engine too hot to work on, just to raise the temperature of the oil enough to reduce its viscosity. Stop the bike, do what you need to do to stop yourself from absent mindedly starting it with no oil and remove the oil drain plug.
Draining the oil

While the oil is draining into an appropriate receptacle, unbolt the radiator overflow bottle. The workshop manual suggests removing it all together, but I found that by using a zip tie, I was able to access the alternator cover without needing to drain it or disconnect the hoses.

Moving overflow bottle away from alternator cover

The astute reader may have noticed by now that while the stator is located on the left side of the bike, its connector is plugged in on the right hand side. This means the wiring is threaded through, from one side to the other. Pulling the old cable out is always going to be easier than threading the new one through… The workshop manual instructs you to remove the fuel tank, airbox and the throttle bodies to gain access to the wires. Removing all these parts would undoubtedly make routing the new stator cable easier, at the cost of making the overall job much harder! Instead, I tied a piece of string to the stator’s plug and carefully pulled the cable through the bike, such that the whole wire ended up hanging on the left side of the bike. The string is then left in place, to guide the new stator wiring back through.

Wrong Focus!

Once the wiring is clear of the bike, the bolts holding the alternator cover in place can be removed. Even once they are removed, the alternator cover is held in position by the strong magnets that generate the current as they spin around the coils of the stator. There is a lug on the alternator cover that, with a bar and mallet, I was able to tap on the back of to break the magnetic seal.

Burnt out stator

Despite what the workshop manual suggested, I found that the stator on my bike was held in place with Allen key bolts, rather than Torx head bolts. I have no idea whether this is common or not, but it meant my purchase of the torx head keys was unnecessary… One day I will have a use for them… You will probably find that the bolts holding the stator in place are on pretty firmly, so take care not to do this :-). If I had any good suggestions on how to avoid sudden knuckle/cover contact I would not have injured myself, so good luck with that!

Carefully note the positioning of the stator so that you can correctly orientate the new one and then remove the dud piece.
While you have the stator removed, take some time to remove as much of the old gasket as possible without gouging the alternator cover. Remember that the cover holds the engine oil inside, so a good smooth surface is important to avoid leaks.

Untitled

Once you are happy with your handiwork, use the dowel pins to hold the gasket correctly aligned and refit the cover. As per the workshop manual, the cover should get some gasket sealer in certain parts. Remember that the magnets in the generator will pull the cover on with a certain amount of force, so be careful to position wiring and hoses clear of its flight path!

Reassembly wasn’t quite as straight forward as I hoped. Although the string helped, I still ended up lifting the tank and airbox, as the wiring connector fouled on various bits and pieces. Still, I managed to avoid removing the throttle bodies with my mad-cap idea… For details on removing the tank and airbox, see this post from when the bike was newer and cleaner.

Fitting the oil filter is one of those few exceptions where I used my torque wrench. I am pretty good at not striping bolt threads – working on the 24 year old RGV teaches you to be careful with such matters, but the oil filter was too critical (and fragile looking) to warrant a careless approach.

The only other point to draw to attention is with refilling the bike with oil. Once the engine turns over, oil will be dragged around all the places it had drained from, so after a quick run, let it settle and recheck the oil level. You may find it needs more to reach the desired level.

Once I was happy that I had put everything back together properly, it was time to try the charging circuit. I didn’t have enough hands to take a photo when holding the engine at 5000 RPM, but as we can see, there was a healthy 13.80 volts at idle.

Untitled

Problem solved!!

A New Year’s Resolution

I am not one for challenging New Year’s resolutions.  Changing long formed habits is difficult and the motivation has to be strong to do so.  But, the notion of having a goal to achieve something and making that a New Year’s resolution has a certain appeal to it.

Last year, my goal was to keep a weekly-updated blog.  I didn’t achieve a one-hundred percent strike-rate with that goal, but came close enough for me to think of it as “fairly successful”.  (Note that my definition for “success” has nothing to do with readership!)

This year, I’m using my blog to publically announcing my goal / NYR: At some point in 2009 I shall be doing a track-day.  (I told you I went for non-challenging goals!)  The last track-day I did was near on five years ago and for me, that was about four and a half years too long ago!  I can tell you now that I am out of practice and will be enrolling in the “slow” group. 

Track days are simply the best way to get the most out of a performance motorcycle.  Unless you are regularly riding them, I cannot believe that you would be getting close to pushing the “performance envelope” of any modern sports-bike.  Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile, or know me personally, will realise that I currently ride a Honda VFR 800.  This bike is not what anyone would call a “modern sports-bike”.  Scour the forums and you can see that people do use this bike for track-days, but it is not ideal.

This leaves me with three options:

I can use my VFR800 and ride it within both the bike’s limitations and my own.  For those of you who aren’t aware, there aren’t many insurance policies that will cover you on a racetrack, so there is a serious possibility of the day ending up being very expensive.  Having said that, this probably is not a bad option for me. Given that I am fairly sensible (even on a track) I am unlikely to get carried away and throw the bike away.  The fact that I have not been on a track for five years also means my “limits” are going to be relatively low.  I am the sort of person who “eases into things” rather than “jumps in fully committed” – so it is unlikely to all end in tears.

I could hire a bike.  One of the local track-day organisers also have “track-day” bikes to hire.  Last time I checked these were “race-prepped” late model CBR 600s.  This is an expensive option and they also take a healthy holding deposit on your credit card in case you decide to end-over-end one of their bikes in the gavel trap at the end of the main straight…    

I could get my own track-bike.  Track bikes take their own special commitment.  Generally, you will want to do most (if not all) of your own maintenance for a track bike to help reduce the cost of ownership.  Using any motor vehicle on a racetrack is very stressful for the vehicle.  The engine tends to run at high speed for extended periods.  Cornering forces are more intense than in normal road operation.  In general, parts wear out far faster and more maintenance is required. 

So far, I have not decided which option I will take to see me meet my 2009 goal.  What path I take and happens next is a story for another time.

Balancing the Starter Valves on a VTec VFR

Last time around, I built a manometer, with which I could balance the starter valves on the VFR. The current model VFR has a chequered history with respect to fuelling issues. My pet peeve, is with the abrupt nature that the throttle travel starts. From closed, rolling on the throttle results in a “nothing… still nothing… BANG WE’RE ON” feeling from the engine. I’ll save some of you a lot of reading: After performing the starter-valve balancing procedure, the bike still has this light-switch style throttle. Subjectively, maybe the bike is a little better, but I wouldn’t dismiss “wishful thinking” may be biasing my opinion.

EDIT: After much consideration, I have revised my opinion. Rolling on the throttle from “closed” is still tricky to do smoothly, but it has become possible since performing this operation. I leave my original statement in the blog entry, but my revised statement is that this operation has definitely helped my bike and made for a more pleasurable riding experience.

Before I begin my walkthrough, there are several things I need to point out.

  • I am not a mechanic: Read my disclaimer.

  • When referring to the bike’s left or right, front or back, the directions will be orientated as they would be if you were sitting on the bike riding it.

  • I described fitting after market exhausts as “easy”. I would describe this job as moderately tricky. This walk-through is more about putting pictures to the procedure outlined in the workshop manual. There are risks associated with performing this task and if you never got past the disassembly / reassembly of some old equipment without having left-over pieces then I recommend you don’t try this one.

  • Balancing the starter valves should be done with the engine running at normal operating temperature. (presumably this is so the bike isn’t fast idling.) From experience I can tell you that it is possible to remove the parts of the bike required without burning fingers, or alternatively run the bike to warm it up when it is partially disassembled.

To get to the starter-valves, you need to lift the tank and remove the airbox.

The tank is hinged at the rear and can be lifted once the two 8mm bolts are removed from the front of the tank.

Tank bolts

The bike toolkit comes with a C-spanner and handle precisely the right length to get “maximum lift” from the fuel tank and despite its appearances is quite steady when in place. The tank has a “restraining wire” that prevents it being lifted too far. Pay heed and don’t attempt to lift it higher!

Once properly positioned, carefully remove the Number 15 vacuum hose from the variable air-intake diaphragm on top of the airbox. (i.e. make sure you don’t tear the rubber hose!)

removing vacuum hose

The airbox is in two halves (upper and lower). There are seven Philips head screws to be undone to remove the top half of the airbox.

Airbox screwAirbox screw

Screw locations

Once the top half of the airbox has been removed, the air-filter will lift straight out.

Remove the four air funnels in the airbox by undoing the two Philips head screws on each funnel.

Air funnels

On the left side, remove the PAIR air hose from (near) the rear of the airbox.

PAIR hose

Slightly lift the airbox and disconnect the white IAT sensor.

IAT sensor connector

The PAIR solenoid valve is attached to the rear of the airbox via a rubber strap. Slide this off the prong on the airbox.

The other end of the PAIR hoses connect to the cylinder head covers. These should be blocked off for performing the starter valve synchronisation. Rubber stoppers or even a bunched-up clean rag should be sufficient to do this.

PAIR reed valve cover

On the right side, remove the PAIR air hose from the rear of the airbox, the electrical connector from the MAP sensor and the vacuum line on the bottom of the MAP sensor.

MAP sensor and PAIR hose

About half way along the right side of the airbox is the bypass control solenoid valve. Disconnect the grey connector from the bypass control solenoid valve and the number 12 vacuum line from the one-way valve.

Grey connector

You should then be able to lift the bottom of the airbox off the bike.

Undo the MAP sensor from the airbox (held in place by a Philips head screw) and reconnect the vacuum hose and electrical connector. It wasn’t possible to access the screw that holds the MAP sensor in place until the airbox had been removed.

Now you’re ready to connect your manometer.

The four cylinder vacuum hoses are connected to a 5-way adapter. (The fifth line is the other end of the map sensor vacuum line)

5 way connector

Disconnect the four lines from the adapter and plug in your manometer. It’s not really important which hose connects to which tube, as long as it’s logical to you! You will need to know which vacuum line is attached to which manometer tube.

All hooked up!

The moment of truth starts here! With the bike in neutral and on the centre stand start the engine and cross your fingers! Well, actually, don’t cross your fingers – because you may need to turn the bike off in a hurry if something has gone wrong and oil starts travelling up the manometer tubing at an alarming rate. Note that the “FI” light on the dashboard will be showing. At a guess, this is because the ECU has detected that some of the sensors are “missing” / disconnected or are giving funny readings. This is hardly surprising given the amount of stuff we’ve disconnected.

There are three brass 7mm adjusters, allowing you to adjust the vacuum generated by each cylinder relative to the fourth cylinder. The aim is to have the same amount of suction on each cylinder, which means you will have even amounts of oil in each tube of the manometer.

Adjusters

The adjusters are on a spring-loaded ratchet style arrangement. That is, they turn in “clicks”. It’s a confined space and difficult to get tools in there neatly. Assuming you don’t have a tool that neatly fits in the area provided, the way I see it, you have three choices:

  1. You can “unload” the ratchet making the adjusters free to turn by hand, by pulling the brass adjuster “out”. (That is: pulling the adjuster away from the throttle body assembly) The problem with this method is that whilst the adjuster is “out” you have altered the amount of vacuum generated on that cylinder hose.

  2. You can use an open ended spanner. This works okay, but you are limited as to how far you can adjust each cylinder to around two clicks before you need to take the spanner off and reposition. If the starter-valves are a long way off being balanced, this can be a frustrating experience.

  3. You can use a socket on a T-bar that doesn’t sit squarely on the adjuster. Normally I wouldn’t condone such a practice as it is a great way of rounding off the edges of a nut. This is especially true seeing as though the adjuster is made from brass (and therefore very soft). However, in this case you don’t need to exert much force to overcome the “click”. As long as you are careful this technique works well.

Adjusting the adjuster!

Turning the adjusters changes the amount of air that can be drawn through two holes on the throttle body. The more the air is drawn through these holes, the less the suction will be on the cylinder vacuum hose.

Air hole

Turning the adjuster clockwise opens the air hole and thereby reduces the suction in the vacuum hose. (the oil in the manometer will drop). Turning the adjuster in the opposite direction causes the oil in the manometer tube to rise.

Now it’s just a matter of patience until you get the oil-levels in the manometer as even as possible.

There are a few tips I picked up along the way:

  • The procedure should be done with the engine running at 1200rpm. Use the throttle stop screw knob (on the right side) as necessary to keep the revs consistent. (The starter-valve adjustment can affect the idle speed).

  • When you first connect the lines, if one of the adjusters is a long way off correct, oil may drain quickly out of one of the manometer tubes. If the tube empties completely, air will be drawn into the manometer and this is a “bad thing”. To quickly force oil to be drawn back up the manometer tube, you can cover the air holes with your finger.

  • The workshop manual has the usual line of running the engine in a well ventilated area. They weren’t kidding! Leaning over the engine with it running exposes you to far more exhaust gasses than you normally get. Don’t take the suggestion of “well ventilated” lightly!

  • Running the bike at idle is not sufficient to recharge the battery. The Australian model VFR does not have a headlight switch. (they are “hard-wired” on whenever the engine is running). If you can’t turn off your headlights, it is a wise idea to disconnect them so that they are not drawing current from the battery. Depending on how long you run the bike for, or if you need to stop and restart the bike a few times, the process can be quite taxing on your battery.

The workshop manual also indicates you should reset the ECU after balancing the starter-valves. The (correct) reassembly of the bike will be sufficient to prevent the FI light from remaining on, but I can only guess that it keeps some “memory” of the sensors having been disconnected.

And that’s about it! As the manual states: “Reassemble in the reverse order”.