Joe Blogs

(Not so) Mysterious Cutting Out


I got on Marlene yesterday to run some errands. She started up nicely, but every time I tried to engage 1st gear, she cut out instantly.

Given that it was instant I had an idea of what it might be. There is a safety cut-out on the side-stand, that prevents you from going into gear with the stand down.

I got off and took a look, and lo and behold, the switch (a plunger type) was stuck in. I was in a hurry, so I simply pulled it back out with my nail and went on my way. Next time, it wasn’t an issue, so I’ve just squirted it with some lube and worked it in and out a bit and hopefully that’s that.


Fuel leak


The morning after the MOT, I noticed a dark patch under the bike, and assumed it was oil. It was towards the back of the bike, so I thought maybe it was the drive shaft leaking. I didn’t have time to look at it, as I was working.

During my lunch break, I took a closer look, and discovered it was fuel, not oil, but it was difficult to see where it was originating. The drip (very slow) was coming from the underside of the exhaust.


I was quite concerned that it was a cracked tank or something nasty, as there was a lot of muck and rust in the area. Looking at manuals and on showed that removing the tank is quite a job. It sits inside the frame, under the seat, and seems to require removal of the rear wheel and swingarm, and other gubbins to do much with it. Even it it were a dodgy fuel hose, that could be quite a job.

After work, I had another look, with a torch and it looked as though it might be the drain bolt, but the whole lot was so mucky it was impossible to tell, except that that area looked wet with fuel and nothing higher than that was wet.

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I had a little scrub with a wire brush but that just spread the muck around, really.IMG_20130625_150200 IMG_20130625_150209

A bit more degreasant and cleaning up with an old sock (pro tip, save old socks they make good rags) made things a little clearer, but it still wasn’t entirely clear where the leak was.

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After leaving it for a little while, it became more apparent. The leak is from the fuel level sensor. Additionally, when cleaning it up, one of the wires to the sensor became completely detached, which probably explains why that hasn’t been working (knew about that when I bought it).IMG_20130625_151846 IMG_20130625_151911

It looks likely that the problem is simply the o-ring for the sensor, and I think I can get it out by draining the tank and just unscrewing it, as I can access those bolts without removing the tank or wheel (I think).



I have the replacement o-ring, courtesy of my local Motorcycle Parts Centre. I also bought new bolts and a new drain plug washer to be sure. The leak has actually slowed or stopped since I used up some of the fuel in the tank, riding, so I’m going to wait until I’m back from Hayling Island, to avoid jeopardising that if I run into problems. I’ll also try to solder the sensor wire while I’m at it.

I was interested to find, in the Haynes manual, that they include a check on this in the 4000 mile routine service:

Check for leakage from the level sensor in the base of the tank.
If it is leaking, tighten the mounting screws (see illustration).
If leakage persists remove the sensor and replace its gasket with a
new one (See Chapter 4)



Teardown: Exhaust, tank and switch gear


Spent a few minutes in the shed this evening.

Dismantled the exhaust,with the aid of a hacksaw to the clamp bolt. Not sure what to do with it, whether to clean it up and try to polish it or paint it. I lean towards the latter. I can hear rattly bits in the silencers, not sure whether to try to do anything about that…

Note to self: bolts for the clamps were 3x M6 30mm hex bolts with nut.

Took off the fuel cap, petcock and mounting rubbers from the tank and drained most of the remaining dregs of fuel. Seems impossible to get it all out, and don’t want to flush it with water. Maybe the last dregs will evaporate and I can then sluice it with something else. Will soon be ready to paint.

Lastly, removed most of the bits from the handlebars, except for the left switchgear and grip as I couldn’t get the grip off. I imagine it’s bonded and don’t want to cut it off…yet. Will probably replace the grips but don’t want to burn my bridges yet (I’ll also likely replace the bars with ones which aren’t so silly.

Welcome to the family, Marlene


Having passed the MOT without any advisories (except informal ones to replace the tyres when I can), I feel I can finally welcome my new bike to the family. I was stumped for ideas for a name (don’t question the naming, I just do, OK?) so I put the matter to Hannah and Oscar. Oscar, my 6 year old son, immediately suggested Marlene, after the otter in Penguins of Madagascar (that he’s been watching a lot of recently).

I wasn’t exactly smitten with the name, but lacking an alternative decided to roll with it. It’s growing on me, and seems quite suitable, now.

Marlene is an otter bred in captivity. As long as she’s inside the walls of the zoo, she’s quite cutesy and mild-mannered.


The moment she sets foot outside the walls of the zoo, she becomes a crazed, wild animal.


Seems somehow appropriate for a bike that looks rather like a cruiser, but if you open her up, takes off like a bat out of hell (bred for the drag strip).




Little things


Always nice when things work out…

I thought I’d better do some minimal pre-MOT checks ahead of Monday.

  • Headlight – working dipped and main beam (as it’s a US-model, no “Off” option)
  • Rear Light – working
  • Brake Light – working for front and rear brakes
  • Horn – *PARP*
  • Left Indicator – TAKAKAKAKA (fast)



That’s the indicator that I replaced the stem on when I first “received” the bike. Could have sworn it was working OK when I last checked. But did I? Or did I make a bad reconnection. Or has the bulb blown (hope it’s that).

I was going to wait until the morning, pull it apart and hope I’d still have time to get down to the Motorcycle Parts Centre (highly recommended) before they close (being Sunday). The possibility of an MOT failure for something so simple (on the face of it) was weighing on my mind, though so decided to try to take a look in the gathering dusk.

Took the lense off. Drat, the filament is intact and can’t see anything wrong with the bulb. I took it out anyway to see if I could see anything bad with the housing. Didn’t have to twist it much to get it out, and wasn’t sure it had re-seated properly so made sure and re-tested. Bingo!

I gave the assembly a bit of jolting and waggling to make sure it wasn’t getting dislodged again, and it’s still working. The other side was OK already.

I also checked the tread depth on the front tyre, and I /think/ it’s at least 1.6mm all over. My tread gauge isn’t very precise, but it looks about OK. I intend to replace it anyway, but not until I know there are no other nasty surprises from the MOT. I believe that a re-test is usually free within 10 days, so if it fails only on the tyre that shouldn’t be a problem.

Fingers crossed. I’m itching to take the old girl out for a spin.

She’s here!


I’ll document the saga of getting to this point, some time soon, but for now…

My V-Max is on MY driveway at last, and running again. MOT is booked for Monday. Bit dubious about the front tyre, but decided to suck it and see, in case there were other hidden issues. It was an advisory at the last MOT, but not done many miles since then, and the other advisories have been dealt with.

Here she is, at dusk, on the driveway:



The next morning, Hannah and Oscar met my new girlfriend ;-) Don’t know if she’ll get a name, yet.

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I’m a little bit excited :-)

Biking and Me


This is going to be a long, probably tedious, autobiographical post. I suspect nobody will read it.

I’m not sure when my interest in motorcycles started. Certainly I was interested that my cousin, Richard, had a bike that he rode around his parents field, and later others.

I first recall really getting interested in my mid-teens, when I started plotting how I would get a bike when I turned 16. I started to save the money I earned in the holidays and pocket money and dream about owning a bike. My mum wasn’t able to discourage me too much because I knew she had ridden a Honda C90 when she was younger.

I bought a few copies of Back Street Heroes and ogled over the custom bikes (the girls draped over them didn’t hurt, either). I read an opinion piece bemoaning the rise of young riders and wrote a letter describing how I yearned for the day  I turned 16 when I could finally ride. I received a letter from the magazine with a request from a girl named Rof (nickname for Ruth, if I remember correctly) to correspond. It’s a measure of my fantastic skills with girls that, when she requested a photo, I sent a passport-sized copy of my school photo, specs, centre parting and tie/blazer. I didn’t hear from her again. Crushing…

When the time finally arrived (a bit before I turned 16), I went to our local motorcycle dealer, Ron Edwards and agreed to buy a spiffy little motocross-style Yamaha DT 50 MX. If I remember right, it was an F-registered model, so 1989-ish. I think it cost me £575, which was all the money I had in the world. I never considered what I understood as a moped, a step-thru. I wanted a proper bike. This was before scooters (other than Vespa and Lambretta) were really popular with young males. I guess there’s something masculine about being astride something, rather than perched with your feet neatly together in the footwell, like nice girls do. Now, swarms of teenage boys whine about the place on nasty little scooters. I still wouldn’t consider riding one.

Yamaha DT 50 MX

Yamaha DT 50 MX

While I waited to be old enough to ride on the road, I would ride that thing up and down my parents garden, and along their drive. When my birthday finally arrived, my parents gift was to pay towards my tax, insurance and CBT.

The CBT was actually a lot of fun. Ron Edwards took my bike up to the training site on an old runway at Dunkeswell where we did the initial off-road training. Then the on-road portion took us through Honiton and the surrounding area.  At the end of the day, we all rode back towards Cullompton together before I peeled off and hacked across country back home.

Now, the thing about that bike, that I didn’t realise when I bought it, was that it had been fitted with an expanded front pipe, which derestricted it significantly so that it could just about top 50mph. At age 16, in the UK, you are limited to a 49cc vehicle with a top speed of 30mph. Doing 50mph felt like flying. The first chance I got, I filled up and headed off up to Exmoor, just bombing around the moors. I ended up at Tarr Steps, and then accidentally went offroad down a track.

I loved that bike. I had one minor tumble on it when I braked on wet leaves turning into my parents driveway. The front wheel went out from under me and I panicked when I couldn’t change gear afterwards. The gear shift had got slightly bent and caught on the engine case. I bent it straight with a claw hammer and replaced the snapped clutch lever.

I have never been very mechanically-minded. My Dad is not a tinkerer with cars and I didn’t know anybody else who did. Something about practical electrics makes my head spin. Having my own vehicle did make me more likely to tinker a little. I had some problems with the carbs, with water getting into them, and I bought the Haynes manual and did some fiddling with them before taking the bike back to the dealer to get it looked at. The only other thing I recall doing is that the speedo stopped working and I traced it to a knackered worm gear, which I somehow managed to replace myself. I also, for some unknown reason, deciding that the paint on the tank looked bad,  chose to do a half-arsed job of respraying it with a rattle can, leaving the decals intact. The result, naturally, looked much worse than before.

The end came when I was going around a roundabout and suddenly the front pipe blew out. The noise was incredible (to me). I don’t think I knew about gun gum at the time. It would probably have done the job. I replaced the front pipe with a pattern version and the magic was lost. Suddenly I was restricted to 30mph and it was unbelievably frustrating. I sold the bike to a kid for £425 and bought a guitar, an Epiphone SG in Cherry Red.

I never lost the desire to be a biker, though, and although I couldn’t afford to get a bigger bike, I still vaguely plotted about it. During my year out, between A-levels and starting university, I reasoned that if I took my full bike test then, by the time I was in a position to buy another bike, all restrictions would have been lifted (if you take your test under the age of 21, you have to do it on a 125cc bike and after passing you are (or were) limited to a particular power to weight ratio for 2 years). I spent a few days riding around Taunton in the pouring rain on a training course, before taking my test and passing first time (I already passed my driving test, also first time, earlier the same year).

That was the end of my biking for nearly 4 years! I still can’t quite believe that number. I finished my gap year, went away to university where I had no need for transport, changed courses and then spent an “industrial year” in Winchester working for IBM. It was at that point that I started to seriously think about biking again. My girlfriend and I were planning on moving in together in Birmingham while I finished my final year in Nottingham. The most sensible option for commuting seemed to be a bike, and with her encouragement I started looking at bigger, commuter bikes.

After doing some research, I settled on a Suzuki GS500. I had compared it to the available options (Honda CB500 etc) and had looked at what was available at the time. I found one on Auto Trader that was £1200 and included hard luggage and a sports fairing. I trundled out to look at it, breaking all the rules of inspecting a used bike, turning up when it was already dark and not having anybody with me etc. I had got there by a mixture of train and buses, and foot, getting horribly lost in the process.

Between agreeing to buy it, and actually collecting it, I travelled to Southampton for a 1-day “Back to Biking” course with Motag as it had been so long since I had last ridden anything, and I’d never ridden anything bigger than 125cc. I spent the morning riding a 125cc bike around, before graduating to a 400cc bike (I forget the model). It gave me a lot more confidence and was well worth it.

When I went to pick it up, I took (then girlfriend)  Hannah, despite never having taken a pillion before. I decided to avoid dual carriageways and motorways for that ride home to Winchester, and we got horribly lost again, ending up passing a sign for Reading and deciding “sod it, let’s go to your parents for the night”.

That was the first time I really felt like a biker. It was my, indeed our, only form of transport other than public transport. I rode it to work, I rode it up to Birmingham to see Hannah. When we moved in together in Birmingham I rode it to Nottingham for my lectures. We rode down to visit my parents in Devon, to Anglesey with tent and camping gear and to the New Forest for a mini-break. Hannah was obviously very comfortable with my riding as she would often fall asleep on the back. The first I would know was when her helmet would hit me in the back. Thankfully she nearly always stayed upright, although occasionally she would slump over to the side, triggering frantic poking in the leg from me.

I read Motorcycle Roadcraft: The Police Rider’s Handbook to Better Motorcycling at the time, which is highly recommended. It didn’t stop me getting complacent and having my first accident, however.

I was riding through Winchester and a car pulled out in front of me from a car park, from behind a car parked on the road. I failed to stop in time, glancing off the front of the car and ending up lying in the road with the bike on my leg. Somehow, both the bike and I escaped serious injury. Her fault, but I blamed myself for failing to observe the risk and slowing down. The policeman who interviewed me at the scene seemed to agree :-/

I also learned something about servicing, MOTs and big dealers. Here is a quote from my blog at the time of the bike’s first MOT:

On top of having my bike cover stolen, my worst fears over Storm’s service were confirmed. I rode down to Chichester, and was given a complete hunk of junk of a Honda CB500 to ride back. “It’s got some petrol in it, apparently”. I took that as “it’s not got much petrol in it” and went off, hoping to find a petol station fairly soon. Of course, nothing. I missed the only service station on the M27, foolishly, and ran out of fuel between Portsmouth and Southampton. Suffice to say that I had to make a red-faced call to the RAC.

I then got a phone call from the garage, saying that Storm’s forks are bent. Bad enough news in itself, but as they say “and there’s more”. They didn’t have the parts to fix it, and they couldn’t book me in for a month. They also quoted £750 just for the forks to be sorted. Ouch. I phoned up a more local Suzuki dealer, and they quoted pretty much the same. I was not in the best of moods by now. Anyhoo, I spent the rest of the day alternately sweating, feeling sick, and phoning other alternatives. I finally found a small local garage who basically said “how much?!”. Which made me feel better. I’ve taken Storm there, and they reckon the forks can be straightened, rather than replaced. Phew. I still got stiffed for £120 for a change of oil and spark-plugs, though. I’ll be avoiding the big dealers in future. Stick to the small, independent garages.

The upshot of that was that the small garage had the forks rolled straight, new rear tyre, front disk, service and MOT for £280. Lesson learned.

My Suzuki GS500, “Storm”, parked up on the seafront at Budleigh Salterton.

Me warming up with the contents of a thermos on the seafront at Budleigh, bike in the background.

Parked up at a campsite on Anglesey.

My experience of motorcylce mechanics was elementary, and illustrated by my attempt to change the oil filter. The filter was retained by a faceplace with studs and nuts. I failed to replace the o-ring, and when I added the new oil it started to leak. In my naivety, I tried tweaking the nuts tighter, shearing off one of the studs. There was no bike shop anywhere nearby, but thankfully a scooter dealer not far away agreed to take a look and was able to sort it out for me after I pushed it there. Dodgy studs has been a recurring theme, unfortunately.

The time came to “upgrade” to a car, and I sold the Suzuki.

My reintroduction to biking came with the need to commute daily from Reading to Farnborough. The traffic was extremely painful by car, and a bike seemed like a better idea. Funds were extremely limited so, scouring the local ads, I found a Kawasaki GT550 for sale. I duly went to see it, rode it a short distance and bought it.

That bike served me well. It had a surprising turn of speed, and I loved the fact that it had a shaft drive and I didn’t have to mess around with chain lube. It was a real workhorse, which I believe they are known for. It got superficially smashed up when I braked on ice at the bottom of a hill, the headlamp cowl mostly. Essentially, I rode it into the ground, to the point it became unviable to get everything fixed and I sold it for parts/repair on ebay.

Kawasaki GT550

Kawasaki GT550

To replace the GT550, I bought another Kawasaki. Not quite so practical. A 1985 Kawasaki EN450 LTD.

Kawasaki EN450 LTD

Kawasaki EN450 LTD

It’s a crazy little belt-driven, cruiser-styled thing that has insane acceleration for its size and age. I used it to commute until I changed jobs and no longer needed it. It was becoming harder and harder to start, and sat unused for over a year when it plain refused to start. I had it looked at by a local garage, and they got it starting. I planned to ride it to Wales for our family holiday and had it idling on the drive while I suited up, when it suddenly cut out, having lost all electrics. One time, the dash lit up again after turning the handlebars, but nothing since. I have now decided to make it a project bike and am in the middle of a complete teardown to get it into the shed. In the meantime, I have bought a full-power 1991 Yamaha V-Max from a friend, which we are wrestling with to get the old exhaust off (more broken studs) and get it MOT-ready. This has become a saga in its own right, and will be the subject of a post of its own.

Yamaha V-Max Yamaha V-Max

Teardown: Beginning frame prep



Oscar and I began the tedious process of stripping paint, beginning with Nitromors. I realise that I’m probably wasting time and money on this, because I’m going to get it grit-blasted anyway, but it’s a good opportunity to do something together. Oscar was pretty careful, and I’d got him wearing safety glasses and gloves and cautioned him not to splash it around.IMG_20130606_173457 IMG_20130606_173522 IMG_20130606_174445 IMG_20130606_174457

Teardown: frame nearly finished and ignition issue


The frame is nearly ready to be stripped and coated. Just need to get the races out of the headstock and do some preliminary chemical stripping and rust removal/treating. Getting the races out could be a job. There’s a special tool from Kawasaki for doing it, but it’s silly money and in theory some kind of drift should do it, I hope.


Frame nearly ready for stripping and painting

Manky, rusty front mudguard

Manky, rusty front mudguard

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While tidying up, I had a look at the ignition switch (faulty) and thought I could see some fraying wire. A new one is hard to come by (used, actually) and I’ve looked at the possibility of re-wiring with a new, aftermarket switch. Figuring I had little to lose, I had a go at getting the switch apart. A bit of grinding to remove a stripped screw got the the mechanical, key switch away from the electrical switch assembly and I then managed to get that open to find an obviously frayed connection. Typically, I then took it a step too far and the various mechanical bits underneath went “ping” and I didn’t know how it went back together.

This looks rather iffy, if difficult to see

This looks rather iffy, if difficult to see

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Managed to get the ignition assembly apart without breaking much.

Managed to get the ignition assembly apart without breaking much.


This all went "ping" and I'm not sure how they go back together.

This all went “ping” and I’m not sure how they go back together.

Dirty contacts

Dirty contacts

I think I may have re-assembled the bits right, but not sure. I intend to give it all a good clean, re-solder the bad wire and hope that it works!

Re-assembled switch-gear. Not sure it's gone back together right.

Re-assembled switch-gear. Not sure it’s gone back together right.


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Connection nearly broken

Connection nearly broken

Teardown: Steering head bearings



With some advice from the folks on the LTD forum, I gave the top of the stem a sharp rap with a hammer and piece of wood and the stem dropped out, leaving the upper bearing behind, which then lifted out. Both races show some pitting, which looks bad but I can only just feel them with a finger tip. However, the Haynes manual says:

If even the slightest amount of wear or damage is evident, the races should be replaced with new ones

Bearings seem to be readily available for non-crazy money, but I’m struggling to locate races. More questions!

Update: found a full set of bearings, seals and races…in the US. Think I shall be taking advantage of my executive courier in August :-)

Further progress, removed the centre stand with a lot of heat and wrestling. Something peculiar had been done to it on one side. If I want to re-use it, it will need a lot of cleaning up, possibly welding. Also removed the helmet locks and side stand switch, which all had to be drilled out. I just need to drift out the races and double-check for any remaining bushes etc to be able to start cleaning it up for painting/coating. It’s been suggested I get a bunch of bolts and thread them in wherever there are thread in the frame, to keep out the grit and powder to avoid having to clean them out. Makes sense.


Pitted races

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