I’ve noticed something lately that has been echoed by my friends: We are enjoying working on our bikes almost as much as riding them! Can’t say this was true 20 years ago, but now at age 55, it is most definitely true. I love being in my shop with a bike on the bench and a plan for tinkering and modifying.
Sometimes the work is straightforward maintenance, sometimes simple cleaning, but the two main reasons I work on stuff are; one, safety and two, trying to make a used bike feel like a new bike.
Safety and Luck
In racing, we call it a “nut and bolt”, as in: Steve Biganski gave my TZ a quick nut and bolt after every practice. Just as it sounds, you grab wrenches, screwdrivers and any other tool needed and run up one side of your bike and down the other, tightening and checking any nut, bolt or screw you can reach. Tools get spread out all over the place and you’re constantly swapping them as you come across the various fasteners. It looks like a bomb blast, but you know what Einstein said about cluttered and clean desks.
Metric bolt torque spec settings chart
(Torque in foot-pounds)
Proper torque spec varies depending on the material, bolt grade or if lubrication is used such as oil, wax, or antisieze. Always go to the manufacturer for proper torque specs. The chart above is approximate values and have not been validated for accuracy. The numbers above have been compiled from a couple different machine builders factory bolt spec settings.
Standard (SAE) bolt torque spec settings chart
(Torque in foot-pounds)
Proper torque spec varies depending on the material, bolt grade or if lubrication is used such as oil, wax, or anti-seize. Always go to the manufacturer for proper torque specifications. The chart above is an approximate estimate of torque values and have not been validated for accuracy. The numbers above have been compiled from various machine builder specs and other resources.
Torque charts courtesy of Machinetoolhelp.com Bikes vibrate and rattle, so your work will almost always find fasteners that need snugging. Having a bolt-torque reference chart and a torque wrench will help inexperienced do-it-yourselfers get a feel for how snug fasteners should be. If you feel you’re not “mechanical”, start with this nut and bolt and you’ll begin to realize, “If Nick can do it, I can certainly do it”. Some bikes shake, some fastener designs promote loosening and you’ll get a feel for all this when you start to nut and bolt consistently.
Case in point: A friend crashed his roadracer when a clip-on clamp bolt loosened, allowing the right-hand clip-on to rotate as he entered a fast right-hand braking corner. He lost the front and slid unharmed into the grass, but he learned a lesson about the frequency of the nut and bolt on a bike you ride near the edge of the envelope. I don’t nut and bolt my slow dual-sport bike as much as I slave over my track bikes and cars. My friend admitted, “Yep, I went through it before the last track day, but that wasn’t recent enough…I would have caught that loose bolt with a 20-minute nut and bolt.”
A note here: Biganski-built TZs never stranded me with lost parts. (Okay, we lost the tops of two pistons when we ran nitrous at Willow Springs once…)
I just bought a very clean 1985 FZ750 that had been in a collection (superbikeuniverse.com) and then in a museum for over a decade. Luckily, Pete Boccarossa, who owns the SB Universe collection, discovered that the FZ needed float-bowl gaskets when he tried to start the bike prior to shipping it to me. Rather than ignore the issue and make it my problem (“buyer beware” rules), he gave the bike to Mark Olsen at Kaplan Cycles and when it arrived in Colorado, it ran like new. In the story (Back in Play) I wrote that my wife Judy was amazed because this was the first time I didn’t have to “go through” a bike I bought used. All I had to do was ride it…thanks Mark and Pete.
The areas that Olsen had touched (carbs and bodywork) were perfect but I was mere miles away from losing an exhaust-flange bolt, the rear axle nut was severely over-tightened and the front fender bolts were loose and beginning to oblong the mounting holes due to vibration. Almost every motor mount, especially the long bolts, needed to be retorqued and there were two spots where continued rubbing and vibration were wearing through wiring. The entire rear fender assembly was flopping around (which I never saw while riding), due to finger-tight fasteners and one of the two main mounts on the front fairing was broken.
We all know motorcyclists who seem doomed to buying a lemon, a bike that doesn’t stay together or simply has a lot of problems. Yes, there are lemons out there, but my FZ would have looked and felt pretty lemonish within the next 1000 miles because it would have had an exhaust leak, missing rear fender, flopping front fairing, eventually-ruined rear-wheel bearings, an “electrical issue” and a buzzy engine as the motor mounts continued to loosen. A nut and bolt would not only have prevented my buddy from lowsiding, but it makes me look like “a lucky guy who got one of the good FZ750s that never has a problem.”
My jobs at YCRS and Cycle World allow me to ride new bikes all the time, but the newest bike in my personal collection is a 2008 R1 on the street/track side and a 2009 YZ250 stroker on the dirt side. Have you ridden a brand-new bike lately? Tight, taut, solid…and very motivating to me when I get back to my garage-ful of older bikes. I realized a few years ago that much of the reason I have the need to “go through” my used-bike purchases is because I want them to look and feel as close to new as possible.
So thanks to Olsen, my FZ does indeed run like new. Starts immediately hot or cold, idles perfectly and revs just right. I might tweak the needle a bit because it lives at 5000 feet and goes up from there, but Olsen’s work made the engine performance like new. I spent a few days bringing the rest of the FZ up to snuff, getting it ready for a fun summer of canyon riding.
One More Thing
And of course, while you’re nut and bolting, creating luck and renewing your bike, you get a chance to clean it and learn about it. You’ll clean and check torque on something someday, like a brake-rotor carrier, and see a crack that would have put you on your head.
More Next Tuesday!