Easy Fixes First

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The other day, I decided to go for a ride on one of my motorcycles – my old, reliable, never-let-me-down ’83 Honda GL650 Silverwing.push home

It let me down.

Keyed the ignition to “run.” Green light for neutral. Fuel tap on. Ready. Pushed the button. Got nothing. This bike has no back-up kicker (damn!) so without the electric starter, you ain’t a’ goin’ nowhere, city boy. Lucky for me, this happened in my garage, so the urge to freak out was considerably less and besides – I am a wise Jedi now and know not to freak out, regardless. Because 50 percent of the time, the problem is something minor – and often fixable on the spot. A teenaged me might have just assumed: The starter is dead. Pull it (and pay $300) and install a new one. Older, wiser and been there/done that me knows to not assume the worst.

And most of all, to not assume anything.

Even if it’s a worst-case scenario, getting mad – and getting stupid – is not going to help.

I’ve learned to begin with the simple stuff, process of elimination-style. Work your way up. Differential diagnosis, as applied to a machine. In this case, the first things to check and eliminate as potential sources of trouble (after making sure the battery was charged and the ignition button wasn’t faulty) were the wires/connections and the fuse at the starter solenoid – which is located remotely on this bike (near the battery and not actually bolted to the starter itself). The fuse was ok but it turned out one of the cables at the solenoid was a little jiggly. Loose enough, apparently, to render the starter temporarily inert. Battened down with the trusty 10 mm wrench (fixes almost anything on a Japanese bike) and old reliable was, once again, reliable.broken down 2

This kind of thing is something anyone can do. And should do – or at least, try. Because – obvious reason – you might find/fix the trouble yourself. But – not so obvious reason – you’ll avoid the potential for epic rip-off by a shop that knows a rube when it sees one and tells you that – yep – the starter’s dead and that’ll be $500 for parts and labor, please. Becoming even casually familiar with your machine will greatly reduce the chances of this happening. At the least, you will have some clue what they are talking about when you take it in – and they will know you have some clue about what they’re talking about. Which is as valuable as street thugs believing you might have a gun tucked under your shirt.

Sometimes, the problem is more serious.

I once had an overheated/under-oiled two-stroke lock up on me with the bike moving. Which locks up the rear wheel while the bike’s moving.

No fixing this by the side of the road.broken down 3

But not necessarily a throw-it-away situation, either. Be calm. Be chill.

I called a friend with a truck and got the crippled bike home, left it to cool overnight. The next day, I removed the spark plugs and drizzled in some penetrating oil. Let that work for awhile. The day after that, I found I could rotate the engine manually with a breaker bar. This meant – rebuildable.

Probably, anyhow.

Which as it turned out, it was.

Point being – things will happen. It is par for the course. Be Zen. Accept – and deal. It will usually make the experience less stressful. Sometimes, you’ll even have fun. Old bikes especially are entertaining this way.

Like my ’76 Kz900 that randomly stops running about once every three years. Shorts out, rather. Blows the main fuse. I have no idea why. Other than it’s old and like old people is subject to occasional mini-strokes. The fix is to keep several extra main fuses under the tail for just-in-case. Roll to the side of the road, pop a fresh one in, good to go for another three years.  zen image

This, by the way, is why I prefer the Old Stuff to the New Stuff. The Old Stuff will crap out on you every once in awhile. But when it does, it is almost always either roadside fixable or in-the-driveway fixable. Because the Old Stuff is 95 percent mechanical – stuff you can lay hands on and see whether it is working or not.

The New Stuff is probably 20 percent electronic. Software cannot be seen, you cannot lay hands on it. When it works – which it typically does for years, without the slightest hiccup – you have no worries. But when the digital dash goes blank, the warning lights come on – and the bike becomes inert – it is almost never roadside fixable. The Man will usually be involved.

But – again – be Zen.

Nothing lasts forever. Nothing works forever. No point getting mad about it.

You’ll either figure it out – or someone else will. Either way, it’ll get resolved.

And the world will continue to turn!

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  1. Had a situation like that couple of weeks ago. Was riding the Honda VT700 to work for the 2nd time since I bought the bike from that dishonest Chaplin in MO. I was tooling along and BAM! bike died. Just like it ran out of gas. Could not be that as I had just filled it up. Nice thing about that bike it has a low fuel indicator and was the reason I filled up. Now, mind you, the bike is 31 years old and finding parts for it are like hunting for gold nuggets. Long story short, it was the fuel cut off relay. I do understand the purpose of the gadget and I can get a new one but I opted to just bypass the bugger. The bike now runs like a top and I’ve been to work for a solid week on it.

    Just goes to show you what a little patience and the web can do! BTW, I found the fix on a Honda Shadow Riders forum after I eliminated the fuel filter and the fuel pump. Gawd, how I do love the web!

    David Ward
    Guitarman6052@gmx. com
    Memphis, Tennessee

  2. Your story struck a chord: Now that I am “older,” one advantage of “getting older” as they say, is that it’s far easier to be Zen and not mad and stupid because you’re not as at the mercy of your endocrine system as you were as a teenager.

      • And the further you get from 18(I’m 18, I get confused every day, 18, I just don’t know what to say)the more you realize it. The wife and I got a free trip to an Alice Cooper concert for a wedding present and it was great as were the psychedelics.

        No doubt why the military likes 18 and the govt. supports it as such. Raging hormones keep you unable to focus on much except the two F’s.

        In the last year or two I once mentioned to my old college buds I keep up with that I was brought up short one day when I was about 45 and realized I didn’t have that same erection I’d had for 30 years. One feigned to be shocked and not know what I was speaking of and if he really didn’t, he sure needed to get out and about more often for that important hormone therapy. Everybody else was up to speed so to speak.

        I think it was a discussion of Choctaw Bingo and the lyrics in the verse about Ruth Ann and Lynn that brought it on.

  3. Carburetor issues are usually discovered in the ignition system or filth. That has been my experience.

    Modern mechanics get by with replacing parts until the problem goes away. Yet the cause is seldom addressed. Case in point is my heat pump. It becomes contrary every few years when switching between seasons. So a tech is called and he puts the meter across several points and determines a circuit board is shot. I explain that a new circuit board will not be purchased until every connection in the unit is checked for resistance and voltage. Give me proof the problem resides on that circuit board before I buy a new one. So the tech objects and the company owner gets a call regarding lousy troubleshooting procedures. Then the owner comes out with a diagnostics flowchart, which is followed line by line, and problem has always been poor connections instead of circuit boards. I think most automotive failures are in that same category.

  4. Reminds me of a story from years ago. My brother, the naval avionics specialist on the USS Midway, calls me up saying that his Harley won’t start, says that he turns the key on, hits the starter button, the idiot lights go out, no starter action. I ask him if he checked the battery, he says yes. I tell him I’ll be over in a bit. I get there and he has the tank and the seat off and other items removed. It does just as he explained, I reach over wiggle the battery cables, and what do you know, fires right up. You could see the lead on the battery and cables had blackened due to it arcing. I laughed at him and told him he knows too much.

  5. Thats why my first and favorite is a 73 BMW R75/5. I tell people I can take it anywhere in the world and have few worries. In the middle of the Sahara or the Mojave, if the carb gets plugged, you blow it out and keep going. If the K100 injection dies in the same circumstances, YOU might die.

    • Just saw this today. I agree with this line of thought because I had to learn the hard way like the rest of you that blowing my top didn’t solve anything except to notify others that I was currently unbalanced.
      Ernie, I have been riding BMW boxers since 1978 except for my recent K-bikes. The K-bikes have stranded me numerous times, but I could always get the old boxers fixed as long as I thought through the process like Eric explained and eliminate possible causes step by step. When the fuel pump goes out on a K-bike, there is no warning. If your fuel guage isn’t accurate, you can’t just flip your petcock to reserve. I was lucky to learn not to trust fuel guages after running out of gas; luckily within sight of a gas station. You learn to watch your odometer and gas up at 130 miles.


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