Last week we started giving you information on Fixing Some Common Issues on Older Motorcycles, today we are going to finish that article up. Stuck cables, false idles, ignition failure, valve issues, fuel issues, and more – find out how to stay on top of them. Regular issues can be easy to address with a little know-how. AMERiders wants to make sure that you have information to take care of these issues.
Dude! Where’s my ignition!?
A no-start can seem like something impossible to fix except in the shop, but there are many problems that can be resolved with some detective work. First, ensure the battery is good and that the engine turns over. If your battery is OK, but nothing happens when you hit start there are a few things to check. Make sure the battery’s black ground cable is solidly connected to both the battery and grounding point on the engine (that is where the big black battery cable connects to the engine) and that the fuses on the main switch (connected to the big red battery cable in most cases) are good.
Clutch switches, kickstand switches, and the neutral light can all break to cause this type of problem. Try starting with the kickstand up, clutch in, and bike in neutral to see if the motor spins. If not, these switches can normally be bypassed with a paperclip pressed into both ends of the connector one at a time, MacGyver-style. Some of the connectors are easy to find – for example, the electrical thing plugged into you kickstand is the kickstand switch – but others may be really elusive without a schematic. Especially on a newer motorcycle.
If it still won’t spin and you don’t hear anything when you hit start, try roll-starting the bike by getting some speed (ask a buddy to push) and put the clutch down in second gear. If it starts, something is wrong with the starter system. Check the connections.
Sometimes the engine just spins and you’ve already checked the fuel system as we’ve outlined above. In this case, you need to ensure you have spark. Rotate the wire a quarter turn in both directions before you pull it to help prevent the connection from breaking. Whatever you do, do not yank it! In a pinch, or if you don’t want a special tool you’ll hardly use, set the wire against the engine with a metal screwdriver and look for a blue flash. Because there is a fire risk and a real big electrocution risk, though, I suggest it is better to just buy a tester. If there is a spark, check the plug gaps. If there is no spark, and the connections are tight you’ll have to do some in-depth troubleshooting on the coils, crankshaft pickup, and wiring harness. Not a light job.
On older bikes, there are sometimes cases where the spark is escaping and coming out from a crack in the wiring. This is only really visible in the dark; luckily, it is normally also audible – a regular crackling while turning the engine.
The Big Ones
Sometimes the motorcycle breaks in a big way. While you can’t fix these you can diagnose them. They don’t tell you about these major failures when you buy the thing, and motorcycle safety courses, I guess, figure you won’t ride a bike like that.
Diagnosing the difference between valves and bearings is a bit of an art on a motorcycle because the whole thing vibrates throughout the frame. In general, the rules are as follows:
- Valves lifters when they tap are a very “plinky” tap at idol and tend to get better if the bike is turned off and on, you correct the oil level, or the bike heats up. If your noise is like that, you probably just need an oil change. On a bike without hydraulic lifters, you need a tune-up.
- Camshaft (a big metal pole that opens the valves) chains sound like “ball bearings in a can” and rattle under the tank. Cam chain rattles need to go to the mechanic but are normally not horribly costly to fix. If the plink doesn’t get better with topping off fluids or heat, it’s something that will need to get fixed.
- Valve issues, on the other hand, tend to “suck.” No, literally! Sticking valves cause suction on the tailpipe. Valves are also often the cause of the black smoke.
Major engine troubles on motorcycles sound like a metal scrape. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the transmission just because the sound goes away most the time when the bike is put into gear or revved. Engine heat doesn’t make much difference with these noises, and a low oil pressure light is a dead giveaway.
A rod, piston or serious knock is not subtle and you can change the noise by manipulating the throttle. The real thing to look for in all engines is the marked “rattle up” or “rattle down” noises that follow the throttle. You should not run bikes making noises like this.
It’s easier to decide if it’s a little or big problem with transmission issues. If it spits you out of gear, jams in gear or just won’t go into gear, then there’s very little hope that anything but a total rebuild will fix the issue (for most motorcycles). But if the transmission “sputters,” rattles or pulses as you put it in or out of gear it’s normally just the clutch. The best thing you can do for your transmission is to always make the full shift – gears are mostly damaged by half shifts. A clunky gearbox, which sometimes makes a metal punch noise, doesn’t usually mean much except that it’s designed to shift fast and take abuse. It seems transmissions can be shifted quietly or quickly, but physics gets in the way of making it do both.
This guide is designed to help people clear up the “simple fixes.” You need gas and spark to run any engine and good controls to use it. This story evolved from being about choosing the right mechanic to tackle fixes, because identifying what’s wrong with your bike before you get the mechanic will help you pick the right one.
Ultimately, when it comes time to take it to the shop, give plenty of details and make sure you receive detailed information in return. Ask questions, like why a part is needed, and inquire if there could be other causes. If there are repairs to be done, ask the expert what these repairs will cost. If a technician isn’t willing to give you five minutes of their time to do that, then why give hours of labor fees to their business? Don’t feel bad walking away from a bad shop. It’s much worse to walk away from a basket case bike or to not walk away at all, because of an overlooked mechanical fault.
~And as always…
~Live Free Ride Hard~
Let AMERiders keep you up to date with information on Fixing Some Common Issues on an Older Motorcycle Part 2.
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