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Topic: My mechanical odyssey  (Read 5731 times)

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« Reply #40 on: November 10, 2011, 11:33:34 PM »

Another week in the books.

We spent a lot of time studying suspension systems this week. Pretty cool stuff. Those of you that ride a cruiser (even one with an aftermarket setup) should be disappointed in what the mfg gives you to work with (I'm not just talking about lack of adjustment, but fundamental design limitations). I know completely understand why higher end products are soooo much better.

After a fork tear-down demo tonight (on a HD fork and then a couple of inverted ones) they split the class in half. Half of the students worked on suspension systems and half got to study transmissions. I ran over to the transmission table and spent nearly two hours studying up. Too cool. Whoever invented this stuff was a genius. It was cool to see directly how various design issues and problems can cause the stuff that annoys us so much (e.g., bikes not going into gear, not being able to find neutral, causes of jumping out of gear, etc.) By the time we were done we could look at a transmission and immediately know how power is transmitted through it, what gear it was in, etc. We talked about various designs and racing mods. We will do more work on/repair them in future courses, but it was really fun to get some insight into how this stuff actually works.
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« Reply #41 on: November 19, 2011, 12:05:36 AM »

Yup. It's time for a weekly update.

Tuesday was a short class. I spent the time tearing apart and rebuilding two sets of forks - one off a Buell, and another off a HD Softail. Wow those Harley forks SUCK, although you need fewer tools to take them apart. The Buell forks are pretty much the same as those on a mid-priced Japanese sportbike (all forks are metric anyway). I also helped out with a Gixxer fork disassembly.

Overall, I have to say that I'm pretty slow when it comes to suspension work, but at least the mystery of how it all works has been solved. I had forgotten a lot from the previous week of lecture and I made sure to take a lots of note on Tuesday to help in the future. It'll be a while before I get really good at this stuff though. I will say that having a fork vise made the work waaaaay easier (Motion Pro makes a great one if anyone is in the market). There are lots of special tools and tricks that can help too - I just hope I can remember this stuff when I need to (e.g., using a vise to compress springs on damping rod setups turns a beast of a job into a joke). The shop manuals often do things in ways that are slow, potentially more dangerous, and downright confusing. Suspension work seems to involve a lot of learning that you only get from experience, so I'm going to try and do more work on this stuff soon (my BMW isn't much help because the suspension isn't exactly standard compared with anything else out there).

On Thursday we had a classroom session on the basics of electricity and wiring. Not much new yet, but I have a lot to learn here. We were given a take-home assignment to do related to batteries and charging systems. I read it over today, and the diagnostic procedures are pretty helpful. We will be doing a shop class on troubleshooting electrical problems in a couple of weeks, but the more advanced stuff (rebuilding wiring harnesses) doesn't happen until the 3rd class in the tech sequence (which is about 95% electrical work I hear).

Next week we don't have class due to Thanksgiving. I'll be working on my assignments and possibly starting to play around in my garage with a new project.....more on that soon. I've been setting my the garage as a motorcycle shop, so I'm anxious to start working on a 'patient.' I'm closing in on a donor bike.
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« Reply #42 on: November 19, 2011, 04:21:44 PM »

Thanks for the update...I'm still reading them, so please keep posting them.
Happy Thanksgiving BTW.
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« Reply #43 on: November 19, 2011, 04:39:36 PM »

:popcorn: Clap Fantastic! I have toyed with a similiar idea for when I retire. Thanks for posting.
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« Reply #44 on: December 02, 2011, 10:19:56 PM »

Bump for update (if I had class this week, you should have - too)

Also - 800th post...
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« Reply #45 on: December 03, 2011, 12:31:47 AM »


Bump for update (if I had class this week, you should have - too)

Also - 800th post...


Congrats on making it to 800! You're right that it's time for an update. Good to know someone is following this thread.  Bigsmile

We didn't have class last week (Thanksgiving week off), but we were "full steam ahead" this week.

On Tuesday we covered more on charging systems. We were required to diagnose and test charging systems on two Harley's (with different stator designs) and a couple of metric bikes. My first bike (A 2011 Gixxer) wouldn't start, so that wasn't much fun. I then tested an '08 ZX-10, an old Sportster, and a heavily modified Fat Boy (makes over 130hp and you need to hit the compression releases to get it to fire up). The instructor also encouraged me to "sabotage" two of the bikes I was working on, so I disconnected the stator on one (easy fix) and removed a ground wire on another. I had some momentary frustration when the voltmeter I was using (a new SnapOn unit) gave me crazy readings out of the box (99 volt battery?!).

My notable mistake this week was accidentally hitting the starter button rather than the kill switch on a running Harley. Crazy I always turn bikes off with the key, but the instructor was watching me and he prefers that we use the kill switch. On this Harley the starter isn't on the bottom, so it was easy for me to hit the wrong button. The bike was also too high on the lift for me to see the switch box clearly (the damn bike shakes so badly that we had to raise it a lot to get the exhaust hoses to stay on the ends of the pipes properly).

On Thursday we discussed carburetors. I've torn a few apart over the years, but this was the most systematic approach to them I'd ever considered. The focus was not only on how carbs work, but how they are designed, and what all this means for tuning bikes. Lots of myths were discussed, and I wrote notes like crazy for my shop manual. A LOT of my "what if" and "why" questions were addressed. Apparently the first dyno class in the advanced program (which I plan to do eventually) focuses on tuning carbureted bikes. They do all sorts of cool stuff like modifying intake length and tuning bikes for specific applications.

Next week we'll be tearing apart carbs. Our exam is late the following week (December 15th). After that I'll be going through serious withdrawl until the next class starts in January. Next semester I'm switching to the Mon/Wed morning motorcycle class (8-11:30am) and I'll be taking the basic welding course on Monday afternoons.
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« Reply #46 on: December 03, 2011, 07:42:07 AM »

Wow, thank your lucky stars such a program exists so close and convienent The Program

I'll search again but I don't believe a program like this is even available in this state.
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« Reply #47 on: December 03, 2011, 08:56:40 AM »


Wow, thank your lucky stars such a program exists so close and convienent The Program

I'll search again but I don't believe a program like this is even available in this state.


Yeah. For once geography has paid off for me. I hear that there are only a handful of community college programs like this in the country. I'm excluding places like MMI/UTI because those are for-profit programs, which are quite different (they have fewer requirements, far fewer hours spent in the shop/class, and cost 5-10x more).

Still, it took me over two hours to make the normal hour-long trip home from class on Tuesday. Worst snow storm I've experienced in years. At one point I was zig-zagging all over the interstate because I couldn't find the edges of the road!
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« Reply #48 on: December 03, 2011, 09:09:47 AM »

I fully understand the weaving part Lol I live in the lee of Lake Ontario
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« Reply #49 on: December 03, 2011, 10:28:23 AM »

Great stuff Dean, I love catching up on these.  Thumbsup
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« Reply #50 on: December 03, 2011, 05:29:05 PM »


I fully understand the weaving part Lol I live in the lee of Lake Ontario


So true. I used to live in Brockville and then Kingston and commute to Ottawa every day. The 401 was a NIGHTMARE in winter.
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« Reply #51 on: December 08, 2011, 10:44:51 PM »

Last full week is done!

On Tuesday we tore apart carbs. flatslide, cv, and pure butterfly types of all makes and sizes. I'm pretty sure I can now look at a carb and tell you more than you'd want to know about it. I knew some of this stuff already, but it was interesting to learn about why various designs work the way they do, and what can/should be modified.

Tonight we did some basic maintenance stuff. I changed the oil and inspected the clutch on a Gixxer, which was a minor disaster. The bike had a low battery, it was leaking oil everywhere before I arrived, and it wouldn't start. Turns out someone in the morning class put a gasket on UPSIDE DOWN and then failed to tighten everything properly. Poor bike. Let's hope that guy isn't working at your local dealership. The shop didn't have another gasket, so that was a short job. Then I did an engine/primary oil change on a Sportster. We also inspected various other Harleys - mostly to do primary chain adjustment procedures.

I arrived at the shop early today to disassemble a fork from my "project" bike. It's soooo much easier when you have a fork vice and various "special" tools for the job. It was still a beast since the fork hadn't been opened in about 30 years, and it was unlike anything I've worked on (the top cap doesn't screw on, but instead must be forced down in order to remove a snap ring that holds on the cap - definitely a two-person job). Once open it is pretty much like a Harley fork (basic damping rod setup). I will clean it up as much as possible and then change the seal and dust boot. Then I'll disassemble the other one and do the same thing. Fun.
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« Reply #52 on: December 08, 2011, 10:57:45 PM »

So, I know you are doing this for giggles - but are most of the other folks in your class hoping to land jobs in dealerships or other shops?
I was always curious what kind of life awaited a motorcycle mechanic.  I thought maybe your instructor had addressed that in class.
What does the rest of your class think about your rat bike?
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« Reply #53 on: December 09, 2011, 12:26:59 AM »


So, I know you are doing this for giggles - but are most of the other folks in your class hoping to land jobs in dealerships or other shops?
I was always curious what kind of life awaited a motorcycle mechanic.  I thought maybe your instructor had addressed that in class.
What does the rest of your class think about your rat bike?


Good questions. Most of the students are planning to become service techs or do some work on their own. The instructors make it clear from Day 1 that there are ways to be quite successful (and they REALLY emphasize time management skills), but you'll never get rich doing this for a living. It's a LOT less viable than working on cars. We're told that you can make decent money as a flat-rate tech if you're willing to work tons of hours and if you can build up a good reputation.

In my class (evening class) many of the students already hold jobs in dealerships as parts guys, porters, or they have connections with a shop. Harley Davidson has their own internal training program, so those guys will have to do that as well before they can wrench on HDs in a dealership.  There are a few guys older than me who are getting out of various other jobs and are looking to do something new. The fact that working on motorcycles doesn't require you to work over your head (like on a car that's on a lift) has been mentioned as a reason why a couple of them decided on bikes. I hear the most of the students in the other section of my course aren't as well connected (many of them have also never picked up a wrench I'm told - I'll find out what they know since I'm switching to the morning section next semester!)

If I could build up my skills to the point where I could do fabrication work, I'd seriously consider quitting my day job and try to do this for a living. It's really that much more fun and rewarding, and my wife earns enough that we could probably get by without most of my income (in general, money is much less important to me than when I was in my 20s). There is a real difference between being a good wrench and being a builder though, and I'm not sure I'll get beyond the "wrench" aspect of it. I'll keep plugging away and see where it goes, and I've made it clear to my instructors that I haven't taken any options off the table.  I can honestly say that I MUCH prefer hanging around with "motorcycle people" than the stuffy academic types I deal with in my "real job." Maybe it's because motorcycle owners have much more interesting lives, or it might be because you can look at a bike when a job is done and see the results of your work. If I was interested in Harleys I could probably do much better on the market, and anyone wanting to become a tech would likely do well to think about going in that direction. Besides dominating the market, Harley owners seem to be willing to spend a lot more on their bikes, and they tend to have them serviced at dealers.

Like me, many of the other students in my class are working on "project bikes." Two own old Harleys that need a lot of work, another is building a metric drag bike, and another is planning to start a metric bobber project. Others own a collection of older bikes that they try and keep running. All of them are supportive and we talk about our bikes (past, present, and future) all the time. Probably half of the class is as obsessed as I am and we're always scheming about swap meets, ebay deals, tool deals, and talking about how to modify/repair various things. The network of "friends of friends" is also pretty good to tap into. The Harley guys are great to have around when we're doing that stuff in the shop (my shop partner and I are pretty clueless about them), and we return the favor when we're working on metric bikes.
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« Reply #54 on: December 09, 2011, 08:08:10 AM »


I was always curious what kind of life awaited a motorcycle mechanic.  


Ahh, the life of a bike mechanic...  My buddy is a BMW tech and also has his own shop (dyno room, etc) where he spends his nights.  From what I've seen you're always busy and it's all about "building relationships" to keep up clientele.  A few years ago when he was doing his own thing he was probably working 9am-1am, 6 to 7 days a week (probably doing the same now).  Weekends were the best time to hang out as the sportbike crowd shows up between 10pm and 2am for dyno runs  Bigsmile    You also need to set up custom work and rebuilds for the winter as it's rather slow.

I think it's better to have a friend who's a bike mechanic than be one yourself   Lol
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« Reply #55 on: December 09, 2011, 10:08:39 AM »




Ahh, the life of a bike mechanic...  My buddy is a BMW tech and also has his own shop (dyno room, etc) where he spends his nights.  From what I've seen you're always busy and it's all about "building relationships" to keep up clientele.  A few years ago when he was doing his own thing he was probably working 9am-1am, 6 to 7 days a week (probably doing the same now).  Weekends were the best time to hang out as the sportbike crowd shows up between 10pm and 2am for dyno runs  Bigsmile    You also need to set up custom work and rebuilds for the winter as it's rather slow.

I think it's better to have a friend who's a bike mechanic than be one yourself   Lol


Most accurate description I've seen yet.

Having a friend who's a mechanic is almost as useful as having a friend with a truck.  Bigsmile
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« Reply #56 on: December 09, 2011, 10:14:03 AM »

Great stuff!!  a note on volt meters (multi meters): if you start gettting strange readings change the battery, seems many units give false reading when the battery gets week?
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« Reply #57 on: December 10, 2011, 06:08:49 PM »


Having a friend who's a mechanic is almost as useful as having a friend with a truck.  Bigsmile
don't forget the friend with the SMOKING HOT sister, those friends are pretty useful too! Lol
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« Reply #58 on: December 11, 2011, 11:47:05 AM »




My buddy is a BMW tech and also has his own shop (dyno room, etc) where he spends his nights.  A few years ago when he was doing his own thing he was probably working 9am-1am, 6 to 7 days a week (probably doing the same now).  Weekends were the best time to hang out as the sportbike crowd shows up between 10pm and 2am for dyno runs

I think it's better to have a friend who's a bike mechanic than be one yourself   Lol


this guy in Grand Rapid's MI?
I could use a guy that can do some work on my ZX14 then run it on the Dyno to tweek it.
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« Reply #59 on: December 11, 2011, 03:46:04 PM »


this guy in Grand Rapid's MI?
I could use a guy that can do some work on my ZX14 then run it on the Dyno to tweek it.


Unfortunately he's located just outside of Hamilton, Ontario.  I believe he's looking for winter projects though   Wink

Come spring I'll head out there with my Tenere to get it dyno'd (currently contemplating a full exhaust, PCV and autotune).

To keep on topic - when will you be adding a dyno to your garage Dean??  Bigsmile
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