or How to avoid going insane trying to get the same route on your phone and your GPS.
There is a method that can keep the routing madness under control when trying to cause common GPS routing solution generation with REVER, Garmin GPS and Goldwing (2019+), or for that matter, any other GPS routing platform. Without observing some very specific procedures and settings in each platform, a common GPX waypoint listing can produce wildly different routes, leading to enormous confusion in a group ride where different riders are using different GPS systems.
The language chosen in the preceding paragraph speaks to the central principle that must be recognized in any effort to produce common routing results across multiple platforms, to wit, each GPS platform makes its own decisions about how to convert a list of waypoints (imported from another platform via a GPX file). Moreover, most platforms offer a set of routing decision biases (or Routing Options) that the user can select to influence how that platform produces a route (e.g., users may choose “Fastest Route” or “Curvy Roads” or “Avoid Highways”) And, of course, each platform makes its own decisions about how to implement a routing bias, even if one or more other platforms use exactly the same terminology to name the route bias (i.e. “Avoid Highways” on one platform is not guaranteed to have the same effect on a different platform). So…
The objective being addressed here is being able to generate a route in one platform and then export it to other platforms and get the same route on each of them.
The fundamental methodology is to create a route in one platform, export it to a different platform, compare the results, and IF THEY DO NOT AGREE, add waypoints to the route IN THE ORIGINAL PLATFORM and re-export the route to the target platform, to see if route agreement has been achieved. Eventually the original platform route will have enough waypoints in it to force the target platforms to produce a matching route. (Yes, this means the original platform has a bunch of waypoints in it that are superfluous on the original platform…but that is ok. They do not hurt the originating platform routing performance.
As a practical matter, it is important to set each platform to a routing mode that approximates that used on the originating platform. A lot of frustration will erupt if the originating platform prefers “fastest route” and disallows unpaved roads…but the target platform is set to generate the shortest route and allows dirt roads.
It must also be noted that the map databases that each platform use for route generation may disagree about map facts. (e.g., one may identify a road as unpaved, when satellite or “street view” in another platform makes it clear the road in question is, in-fact, paved). These sorts of disconnects are very difficult to overcome and may force you to simply abandon plans for that road and take another one (if you want the various platforms to agree on the route).
The “Why So Many GPS Platforms?” Sidebar
I can tell you why I use more that one platform. The #1 reason I always travel with a “REAL” GPS unit, despite how much I LOVE cloud-based navigation solutions like Google Maps or REVER, is that even though those platforms support downloading map data so that your cell phone continues to provide routing instructions even when you ride into a massive dead zone, if you are in a dead zone and need to generate a new route (e.g., your riding buddy has had a wreck and you need to get to a hospital), the cloud-based smartphone navigation tools simply cannot do any route generations tasks without a network connection. Route generation is always handled by the server at the other end of the network connection. Yes, it is true, there are some smartphone/tablet navigation apps, such as Sygic (which works well in the USA, despite its decidedly European bias), that actually do local (using the phone’s processor and memory) route generation…and therefore are a suitable substitute for a “Real” GPS unit. But being a belt & suspenders kind of guy, I prefer my back-up navigation solution to be in a physically separate device so it will still work if the cell phone stops working, whether the cause is a bad cell connection or a dead battery (or I dropped it).
So, having said all that, what follows is methodology I have developed and, for the most part, like using.
2. The Tools
I depend on Google Maps, Garmin Zumo and lately REVER (https://a.rever.co/). I have been a heavy user of GPS navigation since the first handheld moving map GPS was released for sale by Garmin (I still have mine.). And I can say with complete enthusiasm, REVER is, by far, the easiest motorcycle route planning tool I have ever seen, despite a little wonky weirdness in the user interface. I love it and use it to plan new ride routes at home on my computer, despite the fact the cell phone version goes stupid without a live network connection. And it must be said, the cell phone version, intended to be used while you ride, does have some pretty cool features...more if you get the paid version, notably, live weather overlays on your live route map. Despite that, the Garmin Zumo is by far the best on-bike active navigation system to use while on a ride, especially to places with spotty cell phone coverage (indeed, usually my favorite places). But route planning on the Zumo is practically impossible...and doing it on the Garmin PC program, BaseCamp, is just plain painful…doable, but painful. Route planning on the Goldwing Navigation System is both difficult and dumb. (Who wants to sit in the garage for hours thumbing the control buttons like it was a flip phone?!) And using the Goldwing Navigation System on the road is the worst. Nanny Attitude has rendered it unusable for anything but long hauls down hundreds of miles of straight interstate highways. A rider cannot even change the zoom view of the display while in motion! Pass.
Therefore, my methodology is to generate routes in REVER and then export them (via GPX files) to other platforms, notably the Garmin Zumo, and the Honda Goldwing Navigation System (for my friends who only have the Goldwing system to back up Rever on their phones when they are on a ride).
My previous first love was Google Maps, and I still use Google Maps more than any other platform on a daily basis. But Google Maps has a fatal flaw (besides going dumb without a network connection). It will not export or import a GPX waypoint listing. In the past I would develop a route in Google Maps (using the Topo map, Street View, Satellite View, and various routing options) to generate routes I could believe in, and then re-create those routes by hand in Garmin BaseCamp so I could load them into my Garmin Zumo or export them to other platforms via the BaseCamp GPX export feature (which often proved unsuccessful).
So, here’s the inside scoop (not fact checked, but I believe this is true based on my own observations) … REVER is pretty obviously based on Google Maps. Both platforms seem to be working from the same data base and implementing virtually identical routing algorithms (which is just me being tentative…they really look identical to me).
The downbeat on this is that the OEM Goldwing (+2019) Navigation system ALSO seems to have Google Maps DNA. It is useful to note that the Honda Route Planning tool (now discontinued) was absolutely shamelessly built on Google Maps…suggesting, at least to me, that the INDEPENDENT routing algorithms that have been implemented in the Goldwing navigation system have been intentionally designed to mimic the decisions being made by the Google Maps servers when they build a route.
So…given that my personal objective has been to generate routes in one platform and then have them successfully reproduced, turn-for-turn, by my cell phone (formerly running Google Maps but now running the REVER app), my Garmin Zumo, and a Goldwing Nav System, REVER has emerged as the right choice for initial route planning and the obvious source for GPX data to be used by both BaseCamp (on the way to the Zumo) and the Goldwing Nav System. It works pretty darn well, IF you have your settings right on each platform AND you follow the baseline procedure (which is: If you see an error / route discrepancy, FIX IT IN THE SOURCE ROUTE. Yes, it seems like a time-consuming PIA…but it eliminates a ton of chasing your own tail later. Do yourself a favor. Make the commitment to use the methodology
A Word to the Wise: I have seen, on multiple occasions, GPX routes, exported from Garmin BaseCamp, are scrambled. Waypoints are re-ordered such that when they are put into a different platform, the resulting route makes no sense at all. I do not pretend to know why this happens, but it does. Bottom line: Do not expect an exported Garmin route to work.
3. Platform Settings
First, a word on the backbone of the methodology recommended here. The key to making matching routes across multiple platforms is to put enough waypoints into the initial route planning tool for the exported GPX file to have so many waypoints that the receiving device effectively has no choice but to generate a matching route (almost regardless of the receiving platform’s route planning option settings). As a practical matter, that is not actually achievable, because radically wrong settings on the receiving platform will screw things up. Still, at the highest-level view of all this, route planning option choices are secondary…very important, but secondary, to setting enough waypoints.
Note: This is the significant way in which using Google Maps for route planning can be counter-productive, and would be, even if it would allow export of a GPX file. Google Maps allows TOO FEW waypoints to be added to a single route. So few waypoints are allowed, a user must string multiple Google Maps routes together to get an adequate waypoint list. (I am talking to you Google…this is a dumb restriction.)
Therefore, while I may use some of the gross routing option choices, like Avoid Highways, in the early stages of looking at a potential route, when it comes to building the route file I actually plan to use, I generally ONLY select Avoid Unpaved Roads. In REVER, this is a first-level configuration choice when you start your route planning. Find it and use it if you are a road rider. Adventure riders may want to make a different choice.
Pro Tip: Different map databases disagree on which roads are paved and which ones are dirt. If your routes in the boonies will not converge over multiple platforms, check that first as it is likely to be the problem.
To be absolutely clear, the way I get the initial route on Rever that I want is to put in enough waypoints to get me where I want to go (usually avoiding Interstates, freeways, tollways, steel-mesh roadway bridges, ferry crossings, and rattlesnake dens).
The Rever planning tool first lets you pick what type of riding you want to do (on-road or off-road) and then offers three routing bias rules: Avoid Tolls, Avoid Hwy, Avoid Ferry. I choose Avoid Tolls. Whether you elect to Avoid Tolls or anything else, it is likely to be best if you use a similar setting on other platforms.
Garmin is a little more complicated. Before the Rever GPX output file can be put into Zumo, it needs to pass through BaseCamp. BaseCamp will turn the GPX file into a native Garmin Zumo file that can be loaded into the Zumo. BaseCamp allows you to (actually, requires you to) set a suite of baseline routing preferences for each class of activity you may choose to associate with the route in question. Obviously, the route you would get If you set the route class to Hike (on foot) vs. Automobile, the route produced will be wildly different. And there are subgroups of activities such as Fastest Motorcycling or Shortest Automobile trip. The point is, the route comes into BaseCamp undifferentiated (from Garmin’s point of view), so once in BaseCamp, the route must be opened and assigned an activity class by the user. BaseCamp does not generate a road route until the class is set. Normally, one would set the route to Motorcycling. Automotive is also a workable setting. And, my nominal routing preference for the Motorcycling activity when touring with Garmin is Fastest Route.
Note: The “+2019” denotes the latest generation Goldwing (the Goldwing Tour and derivatives) which has different GPS than earlier Goldwing models. It is better, but it still sucks.
The Goldwing GPS also offers just a few route bias options. Believe me, you don’t want to be in the dirt with a Goldwing. Other than that, choose lightly.
4. The Procedure
Now that you have these pages of background information in mind, the actual procedure is very simple.
B. Go back to Rever and add a waypoint in a strategic spot on the Rever route and then go back to Step 2.
In Rever, put the new waypoint directly on the existing Rever route in the spot some distance past where the target platform diverged from the Rever route. This is to force the target platform to pull the route to the desired route. The key is to pick a spot that is far enough down the Rever route for the target platform to plot the route to THAT spot AND continue along the Rever route, rather than double back and try to return to the divergent route plotted by the target system. Sometimes multiple additional waypoints are required to prevent the target system from misbehaving.
*Note: I always choose the “Export to Goldwing +2019” option…ESPECIALLY if I am going to export the route to my Garmin Zumo! Yes, I know there are some Export to Garmin options. I was not happy with the outcome.
5. But What About Google Maps?!
I love Google Maps and use it on a daily basis; more than any other phone app. I use it for ordinary local route driving, whether running errands, or for current traffic conditions while commuting, or to just find phone numbers and/or reviews of local businesses. But the fact remains, it just stinks for cooperating with other platforms. If you have a multi-platform task at hand, I say avoid Google Maps at all cost. If you insist on trying to replicate a route on Google Maps, the fastest, least painful way to do it is by hand, typing in waypoint by waypoint the duplicate route you want to create. Yuck. The better choice is to get a free copy of REVER. (BTW, I get no compensation from REVER or anyone connected with them for these comments.)
Review Scammers Strike Again
This one can in via Google Business Messaging. Hard to say what is worse...the moral turpitude of fake reviews, or the stupidity of sending out a solicitation message for a writing project with errors. Slimly and stupid.
WrenchMonster, you have a message from Shamsudeen Abdullahi
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Starting Your Tool Collection
Customers often ask, "What tools should I buy?" Naturally, the only credible answer is "It depends...". Despite that, I want to take a stab at an answer. Here's the broad list for someone wanting to work on their own motorcycle, but it is not a bad start for other mechanical work. I have built this list on my sense of what I use most often. The less often I pick it up, the lower on the list it goes.
Note: Some readers may look at this list and have no idea what the difference is between a combination wrench and a set of slip-joint pliers. For that, I apologize. It is a little beyond the scope of this article. Here's my suggestion: Read tool catalogs. Go to stores that sell tools. Pick them up and read the labels. Dig into a friend's tool box and ask "What's this thing?" Hey, it's what I did. I still do. Nothing is more fun than hitting the tool isle, picking up something unfamiliar, and saying "What the heck is that?!" And education almost always follows.
Believe it or not, #1 on my list is always an air compressor, inflator gauge/air chuck and blow gun. If you cannot do anything else to maintain your machines, at least be able to keep the tires set to spec pressure. The blow gun costs almost nothing and allows you to clean and dry nasty mechanical doodads to your heart's content. A small unit (120 volt, 1 horsepower motor, 2 gallon tank, able to supply at least 2 cfm @ 90 psi) is large enough for most daily needs. That last figure, cfm or cubic feet per minute, refers to the flow rate the unit can manage...i.e. how much air it can pump. A max PSI rating is almost meaningless...and the one that is always shown first on the box. Don't be fooled by a compressor that tries to sell you on a high max psi spec. You never need more than 100 psi in the shop. Flow rate is the true measure of compressor capacity...and flow rate at a specific pressure is the way to compare. 3 cfm @ 40 psi is not better than 2 cfm @ 90 psi. If you plan to buy a air-driven impact gun like they use in tire shops, a compressor twice to three times that size is needed, but battery powered impact guns are making that sort of tool much less popular, so don't sweat it.
But...lots of folks start with hand tools before they ever get a compressor. Walk your own path.
As for hand tools, after many years of experience, it is my opinion it is better in the long run to buy multiple large sets of single types of tools, than you are buying "starter tool sets" that have a few examples of many types of tools (that you must add to later piecemeal). For example, a set of metric combination wrenches (wrenches that have an open jaw on one end and a box-end of the same size on the other) that covers from 6mm to 32mm may have 22 or more wrenches in the set. A starter mechanic's tool kit may have six or eight. A starter set will have a mix of SAE (inch-based) and metric wrenches. If you have a bike from Asia or Europe, it will not have any SAE fasteners on it, so half the set you bought is useless (assuming you don't have other American-made stuff to fix, like I do). BUT, if you are going to buy a "mechanic's tool set", get the biggest one you can afford. It will cost you less in the long run.
And perhaps this goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, buy name brands with lifetime warranties. A no-name brand with a lifetime warranty is no warranty at all. If you cannot find them in 20 years, you are on your own. I recommend JIS Screwdrivers by Vessel. For wrenches, pliers, hex keys, etc. go with Craftsman, GearWrench, Crescent, Kobalt, Husky, and others. For magnetic bowls, picks & probes, punches & chisels, hammers, flashlights, oil pans & funnels, brake bleeders, oil evacuators and and all that sort of miscellaneous stuff, Harbor Freight is a great resource. (I have some Harbor Freight wrenches. Not thrilled.)
So, here's my basic hand tool list, in priority order (yellow items are really high priority).
You can't solve a problem you can't see...
These tools let you tighten and loosen screws of various sorts.
There are a billion different types of pliers that let you grab things that your fingers cannot reach or hold. A single set will generally (and should) include:
Handling nuts and bolts comes next.
Tools to reduce cursing and general frustration...
And some specialized tools made for specific jobs...
For an oil change (even a transmission or final drive gear oil change)...
Some sort of jack, stands or a lift... The right type for you depends on your bike and the sort of work you need to do...and frankly, on how old you are. Speaking for myself, crawling around on the shop floor to work on a bike sucks. I am never going back to working without a lift. But it is clear that a $1500 motorcycle lift is not exactly a starter item. On the other hand, lots of service procedures require the bike to be vertical. If your bike has a built-in center stand and you don't plan to remove the front wheel, you are already all set... but not every bike has one. For many bikes a scissor jack for motorcycles is just the ticket. For others, like Sport bikes (that generally should not be jacked up from below the engine because the pipes are in the way) paddock stands may be the answer. And the rear paddock stand, the swing-arm stand, is always useful for any bike needing chain service. Do a little research into what you really need before you jump to a solution.
And finally, in the category of "Damn, I should have bought one of these years ago!"...all of these can be very useful if not absolutely necessary...although using them tends to require more finesse and judgement than a newbie mechanic may have on hand. Fair warning, be careful with them.
I am sure this list seems daunting and it is by no means complete. I have lots more than this in my shop, but I have had decades to build my collection. Many purchases have been driven by a necessity that arises from a particular project, or the realization buying a new tool solves and old and often repeated problem. I am still buying tools. If I ever stop you can be pretty sure it was because I died. So...this list is designed to get you a good start, not be the definitive list of everything you will ever need. Just remember the home mechanic's motto: "No job is worth doing if it doesn't require buying a new tool!"
This Is Disgusting
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A Faithful Friend Moves On
This is STella, a 2007 Honda ST1300 PanEuropean. She has been with me since 2010, acquired from the original owner with less than 2000 miles on the odometer and already heavily upgraded. He gave her a Hondaline OEM top box, shipped from Europe at absurd expense (because Honda simply will not sell one in the US, even as a repair part, presumably because they didn't want the ST1300 to cut into Gold Wing sales). He put a Sargent seat on her, add-on fork flood lights, additional HyperLite LED tail lights, and unfortunately for him, a gigantic windscreen made by Rifle; which, it turns out, was the reason I was able to get STella from him.
The first day out on the freeway, she nearly threw me off. At 70 mph she was suddenly almost uncontrollable. The front tire was trying to lift off the pavement. The giant Rifle windscreen was making such tremendous vacuum above the handle bars, the front end was being pulled upwards almost lifting the front tire off the ground. It scared me...and clearly it had scared him, so he just didn't ride her. I did a little research, found a high-tech, wind tunnel-designed, AeroFlow windshield for her. Like the ST riders who had already put one on their bikes, found that I could now easily run her up to 110 mph and she was now solid as a rock. (They say she can hit 155, but I haven't tried it!) With that problem solved, a series of upgrades followed that turned STella from a great touring bike into a fantastic touring bike. (She got an AeroFlow headlight shield at the same time, so her headlight is still showroom fresh.)
The next major personality change was a set of Gen 3 Helibars, that raised and moved the grips much closer to the rider, eliminating the tiresome problem of having the rider's weight resting on his palms like you would on a sport bike. On the first day ride with the Helibars, I knew STella and I were now a match made in heaven. Then both grips got Throttle Boss palm rests added, eliminating the usual strain on the web between thumb-forefinger wrapped around the grips. Next she got Throttle Meister throttle lock / bar end weights that enables highway cruising with the rider's right hand in his lap.
She got huge PIAA driving lights on powder coated billet aluminum mounts, and all the bulbs in the headlights, flood lights, and the driving lights were upgraded to PIAA's 2x bulbs. They produce 2x the light for their electrical wattage...so the high beams, for example produce 140 watts of light each, but each consume only 70 watts of power. The flood bulbs consume 35 watts but each produce 70 watts of light and the driving lights are also 140/70 units. STella makes her own daylight now.
She got a Stebel 140 db air horn that hurts if you don' t have your helmet on, along with an additional horn relay that not only sounds both the stock horns and the Stebel horn all at once, when you hit the horn button, it also lights up every light on the front of the bike, whether they are otherwise turned on or not. Honking the horn button is to invoke sunrise.
She got modulators on the headlights and flood lights that can be activated or deactivated in any combination with a bank of switches mounted in a neat row under the speedo cowling. If you have never ridden with headlight modulators, try them soon. You will never go back. Drivers don't just notice you...they dodge to get out of your way. In addition, a tricky switch was added that allows the headlights to be locked on High Beam while the handle bar dimmer switch activates and deactivates the driving lights, perfect for those late night runs on divided Interstates (don't use them that way on non-divided highway).
She got a amber Zenon strobe light on her tail with a custom controller that shuts down the strobe any time a brake light or turn signal lights up...and automatically turns it back on 10 seconds after the last brake or signal light goes off. Numerous times drivers have pulled up and thanked me for that strobe light. (One guy caught up with me in an east Texas gas station about midnight one night after I had been parked there over ten minutes for a gas and bathroom stop. He said he had been watching me crest the rolling hills from over ten miles behind me for more than an hour.) Those happy drivers all said they loved being able to easily spot STella out in front of them, day or night. And speaking of turn signals, she got and auto-canceler installed so you will never ride down the street with a blinker stuck on because you got distracted and forgot to turn it off.
She got a slick set of hideaway Highway Blades (fold out highway foot pegs) and some massive tip-over bars (that proved their worth when she got knocked over when a car backed into her while parked, and the saddle bags didn't even get a scratch).
She got a FendaExtenda (an add-on lower lip for the front fender) that helps keep rocks and other road debris from hitting the radiator.
She got a smart EarthX brand Lithium battery (which has a native voltage of over 13V so it REALLY spins the starter with authority), and the specialized battery tender designed specifically to manage lithium smart batteries, as well as a custom volt meter / amp meter so you can see how your electrical system is doing at a glance as you ride.
She got a tire pressure monitoring system that keep you constantly updated on the current pressure and temperature of each tire that sounds an alarm if they go out of spec. And those tires, always top line Michelins, are always balanced with Ride-On balance / sealant gel, substantially reducing the chances of a flat in the middle of a trip.
She has nylon straps secured to the frame, tucked away under the seat, perfect for tying down big duffle bags full of camping gear for those long cross country trips...as well as five separate RAM ball mounts and four separate 12 V accessory outlets to run any phone, GPS, radar detector, radio, or heated clothing any rider could possibly want. To top that all off, she has powerful grip heaters that keep the rider warm even when temps drop into the 30's.
While under my care she has had countless oil changes (Castrol synthetic), Iridium NGK spark plugs, synthetic brake & clutch fluid changes, coolant changes, final drive oil changes, K&N air filter changes, tire changes, new fork seals and oil, EBC brake pad changes, and every other normal maintenance item the book requires. In addition she has gotten a new alternator, fuel pump, ignition coils & wires...and less than 50 miles ago, a complete new clutch (despite being only 25% worn from new), water pump (which was not leaking), instrument cluster, and a full set of front wheel, rear wheel and rear hub bearings, a new windshield drive mechanism (electrically raises and lowers the windshield with a thumb button), and a brand spanking new AeroFlow windscreen,…plus all new fluids.
She still has her original owner's manual and the Honda Factory Service Manual...as well as a complete record of every service and every part replaced. Here maintenance log can be seen here.
Magic on Two Wheels
STella is incredibly capable and very well traveled. She has run up the backbone of the Rockies all the way to Wyoming, into Seattle, down through Oregon, Idaho and Utah. She has been to Chicago several times while meandering through the Ozarks. She has crossed the Mississippi and the Ohio repeatedly, memorably at the St Louis Arch. She has run the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mississippi Delta. She has made weekend trips into the mountains of New Mexico and knows the Twisted Sisters by heart. Her top box and saddle bags giver her more luggage space than a Gold Wing. She even has a color matched high capacity magnetic tank bag that adds even more space. She is among the most quiet bikes on the road. Flying down the highway at 80, sitting in a still air bubble behind the AeroFlow windscreen, about all you hear is the wind rushing by. If you want to go farther, faster, more comfortably than just about anybody else on the road, STella is the way to go.
So why are STella and I parting company? It is not easy to say, but she needs a younger man. She has been my faithful companion for over 12 years... but I have not aged as well as she has. There is simply no way around the fact that when STella is stopped, she is heavy. Once she starts rolling, the weight disappears, but when it is time to put a foot down, it becomes clear that all that magic does not come for free. Tipping the scales at about 750 lbs. dry, her big 125 hp V-4, her two-level 7.5 gallon tank, full saddle bags and top box, all combine to make it clear she requires an experienced rider and constant vigilance to keep her upright. It is not difficult, but inattention is quickly punished. And if she starts to tip, she needs a rider with some manly muscles to keep her in check...and the simple truth is that at 67, mine are starting to fade. We need to go our separate ways before I hurt her. STella has been 77,000 wonderful, adventurous, beautiful miles with me...and is perfectly capable of going more twice that far, as many ST1300's have, if she continues to get the careful maintenance she has had. She is going to meet some guy in his 40's or 50's who is ready to go chase some sunsets for another ten or twenty years with her...and she is gong to make him very happy.
With a little luck, I will get to continue to be her favorite mechanic as she continues her journey.
I had never heard of a Honda Ascot when the tow truck dropped this little gem on the driveway. It was, in the early 80's, an absolute technology showcase in a mid-size package. She has a 6-speed transmission, shaft drive, mag wheels, liquid cooling, studs on the rear fame members designed to hang detachable hard bags, and even a warning light on the dash to tell you if your tail light has burned out! Remarkably, they didn't sell worth a darn and were produced only two years. In the end, Honda dealers flushed these bikes onto the market at fire-sale prices. Their only real problem seemed to be that the gas tank was a little to small for a bike that would have made a great lightweight touring bike. Look them up. The more you read about the VT500 Ascot, the more impressed you will be. If you find one as nice as this one, buy it for a song and ride it for the rest of your life.
As you can see, this one came in very neglected, but not abused. She had spent too much time sitting lonely in a shed. So naturally the carbs were fouled, the battery was toast, the brake fluid was bad, and she needed an oil change. But what was particularly interesting about this job, was that she was on her way to being in a movie...and needed to run right and right away.
Being a Honda, parts were easy to get and with the normal Make-Run project ministrations, she was ready to go right on schedule...but when it came time to change her four spark plugs (two per cylinder), she showed herself to be a true Honda V-Twin. I cannot figure out why so many Honda V-Twins are like this, but I see it over and over, across lots of different models they have made. It is such an odd quirk for a company that usually does everything nearly perfectly, I have just got to tell you about it. On lots of their V-Twins, Honda makes it absurdly difficult to change the front left spark plug.
Is this a big deal? No, not really. But it can be really aggravating if you don't have the right spark plug socket. And I have seen a number of bikes come in that have clearly had all of their other plugs changed at some point, but the front left plug has never been changed. Some mechanics just skip it, rather than deal with getting the plug out. That is really crummy. So the message here is, if you have a Honda V-Twin, make sure your mechanic is willing to do the job right. (I guess that is good advice, whatever bike you may have!)
You may notice that the photo of the long, thin spark plug socket shows lots of scratch marks on the outside. That is because on some bikes, even this special tool was too thick to fit down the hole. So naturally, I took it over to the bench grinder and ground it even thinner! Sheesh!
Well, it all worked out fine in the end, and out little hero got a nice bath and made it to the set on time. The script says the rider finds a dead body in the woods. Who did it? Was it Major Mustard with a wrench?
Charging System Demystified
How do you know if your battery charging system is working? Check your battery voltage with the bike turned off. Start the bike. Check the battery voltage with the bike running at 1500 RPM or more. The battery voltage should now be higher that it was...and ought to be somewhere between 13V and 15V. If it is not, and particularly if your battery voltage is LOWER than it was with the bike turned off, your charging system has taken a powder. Now you need to figure out what is wrong with it.
One fun thing about motorcycles is that the charging system (which you would just call "the alternator" on your car) is broken into its two major components, so you can look at them (and repair them) independently. The first part, the Stator (so named, I think, because it STAYS still while magnets spin around it) is simply (usually) three coils of wire that are located very near one or more magnets attached to the engine, so that when it is running, the magnets spin by the coils, inducing an electric current within them. (Yes, Virginia, that is how almost all the electricity you have ever used is made. Coils of wire are passed through a field of magnetic flux, causing the electrons within the wire to get excited and go flying off to some atoms further down the wire that are not quite so excited.) As you can see in this photo, the three coils are artfully arranged so that you would be unlikely to guess that there are three of them, but we know there are three and only three because there are three yellow (typically yellow) wires connected to the lot of them. How that works out will become clearer as we move on...
The second part (Have you already forgotten there is a second part? I would have.) is the Regulator. The Regulator, as you might well imagine, regulates the voltage produced by the Stator. Because they are attached to the engine and the engine runs at wildly variable speeds, the magnets induce wildly variable current in the Stator, which is seen as wildly variable voltages on the output connector of the Stator (the three yellow wires). What is worse is that the Stator is producing AC current (alternating current) while your motorcycle, and notably your motorcycle battery, operates on DC current (direct [unidirectional] current). So when we call that second part of the charging system "the Regulator" it is shorthand for what it really is, which is a Rectifier-Regulator.
What is a Rectifier? It is something that fixes (rectifies) something else. In this case, the "fix" is that it prevents electricity from flowing backwards. It converts AC current into DC current. In most cases, it is desirable to make use of both the forward and backward energy a Stator provides. When this is done, the circuit that routes Positive and Negative (forward and backward) current flow, so both get sent out in the forward direction, is called a "full-wave" Rectifier. And that is what is being done inside most motorcycle Regulators (a.k.a. Rectifier-Regulators).
Just to make matters a little more confusing, when someone says "Rectifier" they may be referring to the entire gizmo that plugs into the bike, or they may be talking about a single-junction semiconductor device with two wires on it. Although the antiquated term for such a device may be "rectifier", for clarity, such a device is usually called a diode. And a module that accomplishes rectification, which is built using a number of diodes, may be called a Rectifier. The schematic symbol for a diode is shown below. The message in the image is very literal. A diode allows current to flow in the direction the arrow (the triangle) is pointing, and the wall (the vertical line) blocks current that might try to come in from the right. If you went out and bought one diode off the shelf, it might look a lot like the cylinder with the white stripe shown below. The white stripe corresponds to the vertical bar in the symbol drawing. It shows where current cannot enter the diode.
The several diodes in a Rectifier-Regulator convert the AC current produced by the Stator into DC current...but by themselves do nothing to make sure that the very high voltages produced by the Stator when the engine is at high RPM, voltages that can exceed 75 volts AC, do not fry the electronics on your bike or fry your "12 volt" battery. That job is handled by the other half of the Rectifier-Regulator (often simply described as "the Regulator"). Exactly how voltage regulation is done is beyond the scope of this post, and it may be done is several different ways, depending on the preferences of the folks who designed the charging system, but in the end, the Regulator will prevent the net DC voltage seen by your battery to be no more than about 15 volts. Typically "charging voltage", the voltage seen across the battery terminals while the engine is at 1500 RPM or more, is going to be around 13.5V to 14.5V DC. That is enough to make sure that current flows INTO the battery, rather than out of the battery (charging, rather than discharging). A good, ordinary lead-acid battery will show about 12.4V to 12.6V DC when it is charged and resting, so hooking a battery to a voltage source that is higher than that will charge the battery.
A Typical Charging System Schematic
This is a circuit diagram of a typical motorcycle charging system. The lines in the drawing are wires and when you see a round dot printed on top of the intersection of two lines, two wires, you know that those two wires are connected to each other. (Line crossings without a dot do not represent an electrical connection.) You can also see six diodes inside the Regulator-Rectifier module. The Stator is show as three coils of wire on the left side of the drawing. One end of each coil is connected to another coil and the loose ends are connected to the diodes in the Regulator. FYI - On many bikes, the three wires that run from the Stator to the Rectifier-Regulator (a.k.a the Regulator) are bright yellow.
Notice that each coil of wire in the Stator is connected to a dot between two diodes. Notice that the diodes are all pointed UP, showing that all the current flows toward the positive (+) connection of the battery...and on to other components of the bike via the main fuse and the main power contacts in the ignition switch. Notice that each wire from the Stator is connected between two stacked diodes, so that each pair of diodes does "full-wave rectification" of the current coming from each coil (each "phase") of the Stator.
The three coils of the Stator and the three pairs of diodes shown, along with the voltage regulating mechanism depicted by a regulator box and three switches (which are actually some transistors and other stuff) are the essential elements of what is known collectively as a "Three-Phase Charging System".
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
There are three main functions in the charging system; production of electrical current by the Stator, rectification of the current by the diodes, and regulation of the voltage by the regulator circuits. Any of these three sections can fail or all of them can fail...and they can fail open (fail by disconnecting) or they can fail short (they can pass current to an unregulated degree or along an unsuitable path).
Testing the Stator coils is very easy. Unplug the Stator from the bike and measure the resistances between the three yellow wires...and between each yellow wire and the frame of the bike. There should be NO current flow from any Stator connection and the bike frame (a.k.a. Ground), and the resistance seen between any two of the three Stator wires should be roughly equivalent...and pretty darn low...probably near 1 ohm. (But whatever DC coil resistance may be, the main concern is that they be about equal, say within 10% - 20% of each other.) If any Stator lead is shorted to ground (to the bike frame) the Stator is bad. If any two Stator leads show a dead short (~zero ohms) or leaks to the bike frame, the Stator is bad.
Testing the diodes in the Regulator-Rectifier is more complex conceptually, but not in practice. The Regulator needs to be unplugged from the bike completely. The DC wires (often red and black) and the AC wires (usually three yellow wires) need to be disconnected from the bike's wiring harness. Then each phase can be tested.
Sidebar: A Multimeter with a Diode Test Function
I use a very nifty multi-meter (that was not at all expensive) with some very useful functions, including Diode Test Mode. Note in these photos that the control knob is set to measure resistance but the meter is reading volts (!). That is because the way a multi-meter always test resistance is to send out a know voltage from inside the meter and then look at what comes back. Diodes have a very particular characteristic compared to other devices like resistors and light bulbs. While resistive devices will show a larger and larger voltage drop across their terminals as voltage is increased, the voltage drop across a diode will stay nearly constant, despite the fact the diode is conducting more and more current flow as the applied voltage increases. In Diode Test mode, the meter reports the voltage drop it is seeing across the device being tested.
Regulator Diode Testing
Connect your diode tester to a Stator wire and check for diode current flow through the positive and then the negative terminals of the DC output voltage connector. One of the DC terminals should show current flow...only one. Then reverse your diode tester connections and check the same points. Now the OTHER DC terminal should show diode current flow while the one that flowed before should indicate blocked flow.
In the example shown here, current was found to be flowing from terminal A on the Stator to the positive (+) DC terminal of the Regulator (which it should) AND to the negative (-) DC terminal of the Regulator (which it should not). That measurement proved that this was a bad regulator. It must be noted that testing the diodes in this manner CANNOT conclusively prove a Regulator is good. Such a test can only prove that a Rectifier part of the Regulator is bad. The diodes could all be just fine and the regulating circuits themselves could be bad, resulting in bad system voltage on the bike. However, in this case, testing revealed at least one bad diode inside the Regulator assembly, so it is a gonner.
Once you have determined the major components of the charging system are functioning with the bike turned off, there are other tests you can do with the bike is running.
With the engine running AND the Stator unplugged from the regulator, check AC voltage between each of the three Stator output terminals (Three measurements...on the drawing above would be point A to B, A to C, and B to C). The voltage seen at any given engine RPM should be about the same for each measurement (because the coils and magnets are the same for each phase). You may see nearly 100V AC on these terminals, so be careful. Anything much past 24 volts can be noticeable and 48V and up can hurt...and can certainly be deadly. Watch yourself. This test is particularly useful if the Stator is wounded and only shows a short at higher voltages or only shows an open when it is being vibrated by the motor. The key for each of these measurements is that under the same conditions, they should match each other pretty closely (say +/- 10%). Needless to say, if you see bad results in these tests, you have a bad Stator and need a new one.
Repeat the measurement of the AC terminals with the Regulator plugged in. Again, each phase should be the same as another...although probably not the same voltages seen when the Stator was unplugged. Seeing generally lower voltages would be normal because the Stator is doing real work if it is plugged into the Regulator. But be on the lookout for seriously low output voltage on any phase of the Stator. A bad Regulator may collapse the Stator AC output on any or all phases. One low or high phase measurement when the Regulator is plugged in, despite seeing uniform AC voltages on each phase of the Stator when the Regulator us disconnected, suggests a bad Regulator.
With the Stator and the Regulator connected normally, check the DC output voltage of the Regulator with the Regulator connected bike. For reference, check battery voltage first and keep that number in mind. Then start the bike and check battery voltage while it is running. Whatever voltage you see at idle should increase somewhat as you increase engine RPM but should stop climbing once it gets into the 14.5V to 15V range. If, when you are at 1500 RPM (high idle), it is not at least equal to the battery voltage you measured when the engine was not running at all, something is wrong (perhaps a bad Regulator, but possibly a bad Battery). If DC voltage keeps climbing past 15V when you increase RPM, STOP THE TEST before you blow bulbs or worse on your bike. And get a new Regulator.
Disconnect the DC output of the Regulator from the bike and check Regulator output voltage while the bike is running, again slowly increasing RPM, checking to see how much output voltage increases as engine speed increases. If it is too low to charge your battery (say, less than 12.6V DC) or too high (say over 15V DC), you have a Regulator problem.
Killer Hose Clamp, Dude.
Just finished a water pump job. Everything is clean and tight. Got the radiator full, topped up the overflow tank, fired her up, watched for coolant flow when the thermostat opened, put the radiator cap on nice and snug, and…
DANG…there is a leak…one stinking, little, slow drip…on the smallest hose in the system. WTF.
There it is. Right under the hose clamp. How is that possible? Well…here’s how.
The end of the hose is nice and round and thick…like the rest of the hose. But, uh oh, look at where the clamp has been on the hose. Yep…there’s the hole; right under the lead screw housing.
Cutting off the hose end affords an even more telling look. The hose was completely distorted. The flat bottom of the worm drive housing squashed the life out of that poor little hose…squashed a hole right through it.
Oh yea…the smallest hose in the system needed a better small hose clamp; one that does not have a flat spot in the clamping surface like the one on this worm drive hose clamp that had been used on this hose. Here’s one option…a fuel injection hose clamp.
Note how the clamp is designed to deliver clamping force uniformly around a small hose. Make no mistake, even these clamps can be applied in a way that causes a pinch right there under the screw. (Don’t ask me how I know that.) The trick is to get the metal clamp to slide smoothly around the hose as it is being tightened.
How? There is a magic rubber dressing that can be used to gigantic advantage every place rubber comes into contact with metal and needs to move, rather than stick. It is awesome for sliding stubborn hoses onto or off of water pump or radiator fittings, it is the bomb for demounting and mounting tires (that’s right…dump the soapy water…this stuff will change your life), it is the coolest for slipping wires through jackets. What is this magic stuff? It is already on your work bench; plain old WD-40. That’s right. It works miracles on rubber when you need to get it to slide past some metal…and then it evaporates away, leaving newly mounted tires or hoses or hose clamps, clean, dry, and ready to go to work.
So, yea, this is a twofer. First, you learned NOT to use ordinary worm drive hose clamps on any hose where the flat spot in the worm drive mechanism represents a significant portion of the circumferences of the hose to be clamped (i.e. a too small hose). If you do, you risk putting a flat spot in your hose…and causing a leak. Second, you learned that, when it comes to fitting rubber parts, WD-40 is your best friend.
Backwards? Well, yes. Normally it is the front wheel that goes into the wheel vice at the front of the lift. Why not this one? Because this bike needs a new front tire. The front end needs to come up off the ground, not the back tire, to service this bike...but that is not the whole answer.
A bike lift (a.k.a. a lift table) allows a mechanic to work on a bike without crawling around on the floor. If you work on a lot of bikes or are not 20-something anymore, a bike lift is a godsend. But sometimes, the bike needs to be lifted up from the lift table...the wheels need to be in the air, perhaps, as in this case, to remove a wheel and change a tire. What is a mechanic to do? The easy traditional answer is a small scissor jack, like the one shown in these photos:
The scissor jack is the little blue gizmo sitting between these two bikes and the lift table surface. Capable of lifting 1000 lbs., it is very handy item to have. But there is a catch. The bike you want to lift has got to have some solid structure on the bottom for the jack to contact that can bear the weight of the bike as the jack lifts it off one or both of the wheels. In the first photo, the rear wheel of an old Goldwing is being lifted while the front wheel is clamped in the wheel vice. It should be noted that this allows the bike to rotate (however slightly) about the front axle, without stressing any of the frame elements. In the second photo, the front wheel of a VTX is being lifted, while the rear wheel is strapped down to the table with the two orange "Y" straps shown and a matching pair out of view on the other side of the wheel. This allows the bike to rotate around the rear axle, without stressing any frame elements, yet, as in the first photo, the bike is being securely held upright, even as a wheel lifts off the table surface. But I digress. The central story here is the handy little blue scissor jack...and why it couldn't be used this time.
Here's the bottom side of the FZ6. No solid structure down there; nothing but exhaust pipes. Lots of bikes are like this...particularly sport bikes. Do not be the poor fool who lifts his bike by putting a jack under the pipes. You will not like the results.
Sure, if we wanted to lift the rear wheel, we might get a jack to contact something near the back, like the pivots for the center stand...but to lift the front, the lift point needs to be in front of the bike's center of gravity...and that looks like a problem. Fortunately, somebody has solved that problem. We can use a "Head Stand".
Even if you hated High School Geometry, you are going to love a Head Stand. A Head Stand us a wonder of geometry and the power of leverage. The stand has hinged uprights, a lifting pin at one end, the lever end (the hoop handle shown), and wheels that allow the whole affair to pivot as the hoop handle is pressed downwards. As the handle goes down, the wheels roll forward and the pin is lifted upwards as the uprights go from folded, to straight and locked (as shown here). It takes a little effort, but not so much that even a skinny mechanic would find difficult.
The pin, as shown here, goes into the hole found at the bottom of the steering head on almost every bike. Those holes come in a variety of sizes, so if you plan to work on lots of different bikes, you get a bunch of different pins, not a bunch of different stands. The steering head is always located above the bike's center of gravity, so a bike will always hang securely from the lift pin, without any danger of the bike flipping over after it is lifted.
The downsides of using a Head Stand are:
However, since the front wheel will still pivot left to right, obstruction caused by the stand legs can mostly be avoided. Not having the ideal lift height is more problematic, which is to say, can usually be addressed with a little more effort and innovation (e.g. you may need to do a little more disassembly than would have otherwise been required to get additional clearance, or you may need to slip something under the lifted wheel to reduce excessive clearance).
One word of caution: Head Stands should not be used alone...that is without some sort of REAR stand or clamp. You might get away with using only the front stand, but you might not, and having a bike topple over just isn't fun. Use a rear stand or a wheel vice or some other sort of rear wheel tie-down to make sure the bike stays upright while it is being lifted. Yes, I know I said earlier that the bike's center of gravity is below the steering head...but it may not be far below, and if that is the case, removing the front wheel or the bike being jostled side to side might result in a tumble. So...play it safe. Secure the rear wheel before you lift the front.
Bottom line, Head Stands are a very useful and inexpensive tool...and one of very few reasonable ways to lift the front end of some bikes. If you need one, get one. You won't regret it.
A very pretty 2009 Suzuki V Strom 650 came into the shop last week. She looked showroom fresh, with less than 2k miles on her. Needless to say, she had been parked for years...and sadly, with a half full tank of gas...which, predictably, turned into a tank full of rust.
The owner had already cleaned the tank and replaced some or all of the fuel pump assembly, which lives inside the tank itself, but despite these ministrations, she would bog down under load. She idled like a champ, but just wouldn't pull when the rider cranked on the throttle. Very frustrating for the owner.
There are a number of esoteric possible causes for that behavior, but the most obvious thing to check is fuel pressure, which is a proxy for looking at fuel flow. This is a fuel injected bike, so fuel pressure is supposed to be pretty high, around 60 PSI. Fuel injectors just won't work right if the pressure gets too low. And if the fuel pump assembly cannot keep up with the fuel demand from the engine (as the engine control computer tries to get it to make more power), then the fuel pressure in the fuel supply line is going to drop.
Because spraying 60 PSI gas around your shop is a bad idea, selecting the right fuel pressure test rig is important. Fortunately, bike manufacturers have largely selected standardized fuel line fittings when they design their bikes. In this case one of the mid-size quick disconnect fittings was just the ticket and that allowed disconnecting the fuel line from the tank, plugging in the tester T-connector, reconnecting the fuel line to the Tee and then hooking up the pressure gauge to the open end of the Tee. The results can be seen at the links below...
Start and Blip Throttle and Advance to Higher RPM
What you see here is a significant drop in fuel pressure as engine RPM is increased...despite the fact that the bike is just sitting in the shop in neutral, not even spinning the back tire. So even with zero load on the engine, the fuel pressure drops...a lot. You might even notice in the second video that you can hear the RPM begin to drop (despite increasing throttle) when fuel pressure gets near 20 PSI. It is significant that the pressure drop is smooth. Pressure rolls off steadily as RPM increases. It does not, for example, spike low intermittently and then pop back, which might suggest an intermittent electrical connection to the (electric) fuel pump. Nope, this sure looks like plain old low flow. The fuel pump assembly just cannot keep up.
Now why say "fuel pump assembly" and not "fuel pump"? Because inside the tank there is not only a fuel screen / filter, there is also a pressure regulator, as well as the pump itself. Poor flow could be caused by problems with any one of them, not to mention the possibility that the fuel pump assembly components themselves may have been misassembled and are leaking fuel from the pressurized lines inside the tank into the low pressure area inside the tank itself. That would not produce a fuel leak that is visible outside the tank, but it could cause a pressure drop in the fuel line when fuel demand increases.
So, how did this all turn out? We don't know yet. Now that he has a solid answer on the fuel pressure question, he and his bike are back home awaiting the arrival of a new Suzuki OEM Fuel Pump assembly, which he will install after taking another good look inside that tank...to see if another cleanup is in order before installing the new pump. Stay tuned!