“Ultimately, you end up with a plaque and a busted bike”
Immortal words spoken by a close friend, a rider I respect and look up to. He told me that in response to my eagerness to ride more miles than anyone else I knew.
After snapping the head off the second cap screw, while replacing the fork oil in the Scrambler, those “immortal words” ran through my mind. With the arrival of the 250L, I’ve spent that last few months catching up on some neglected Scrambler maintenance; especially that pesky fork oil service. On Instagram, I’ve made the joke that “Rust is Mother Nature’s Loctite”; serious gallows humor there, as I’m presently paying the piper for winning the battle against old man winter.
The year of Rebuilding
Late in 2018, I fixed a broken spoke; one of the first signs of harsh winter corrosion, and the effects thereof. It took me a few weeks to get that sorted out, and despite its replacement, that front wheel is still a bit shy of “true”. Jerri (the CRF250L) took up residence on the porch shortly after getting that spoke fixed, and the “year of rebuilding” began as I felt I finally had the means to keep riding while taking care of the details on my beloved Scrambler. While getting the bike cleaned up one day, I noticed a hairline crack in the exhaust hanger. I worked out a deal with a buddy at work to tig weld the rear frame support brace, along with that crack in the exhaust hanger. With a tool kit strapped to the back seat, that failure in the subframe brace was almost certainly a victim of Rosie’s exploits on Fincastle Road and the “boney” trails of the Keystone State.
This winter was pretty unkind here in the Midwest; certainly not the worst we’ve had, by long shot, but with long spells of deep cold, if not unending rain. Rosie spent several weeks parked on the porch; after the cold soak, I realized the rear brake caliper had nearly seized. Corrosion buildup on the pistons was significant, and the caliper was not floating properly on its guide pins. When the weather finally turned, I pulled the caliper and gave it a good deep-clean and lubed up all the critical bits to get her back on the road.
About that same timeframe, I noticed the telltale sign of yet another charging issue; cheers to Oxford Products for that handy little warning light on the heated grips, indicating the grips being left on when the bike isn’t running. In this case, the bike was certainly running, but apparently not charging the battery. I’d had enough. I bought some heavy gauge wire, a new soldering iron, and an inline fuse. I removed the connector from the main bundle and the rectifier and soldiered the rectifier connections directly to a set of leads that ran independently back to the battery. The main wiring bundle may have future issues, but at least the battery will always have power.
With sunnier days in the forecast, I geared up to take Rosie on a good tear through my favorite local twisties. Once outside of Dayton, I laid into throttle around the open bends. Right about that time I noticed the RPMs spike just above five-grand. I shook my head, assuming I must have had my hand on the clutch unknowingly; off-road habits creeping into my street riding. I dove into a few more curves and suddenly realized that the engine was again spinning up on hard acceleration. That clutch replacement I hoped to avoid by finally having a dedicated dirt machine had arrived after all. No sooner had I seen light at the end of the tunnel, Rosie was going back up on the jack, this time for the most invasive work I’d ever done. Long story short, Barnett makes phenomenal clutch parts but scraping paper gaskets sucks.
With Red River Scramble complete, and a new clutch pack installed, I was ready to go rip the Kentucky backroads on my favorite “touring” machine; just a matter of installing some more pavement friendly (and rain worthy) rubber. Naturally, while spooning on a new Anakee 3 rear tire, I found a questionable wheel bearing. Turning the sprocket carrier in my hand, I felt the unmistakable “gritty” sensation of a bearing on the verge of throwing in the towel. Back on the jack stand she went.
With the new wheel bearing installed, and after another lengthy southern excursion, I decided it was time to change out that aging oil that had absorbed six years of abuse inside those front forks. Having recently rebuilt the CRF250L’s front forks, a fork oil change on the traditional scrambler stanchions would be a breeze. Famous last words, as I successfully twisted the heads off of both of the top yoke pinch bolts… and then subsequently broke off a bolt extractor inside one of the bolts. This, the latest in a series of corroded and stripped bolts I’ve already replaced, not included in the preceding stories. No thanks to the Ohio salt, I’ve successfully stripped all four brake pad retaining pins, along with removing various ancillary parts to shot blast and paint to remove the beautiful rust brown patina and restore them to their previous satin black facade. Among other casualties…
As of this writing, all attempts have failed to extract the fork yoke pinch bolts; a new top yoke is inbound thanks to eBay. Which leads me to the list of other outstanding items that are in need of remedy; the rear brake line got pinched in the shock spring after, like an idiot, I changed a tire in the dark and didn’t realize the brake line wasn’t positioned correctly. The rear shocks have now endured over 50,000 miles of ridiculous conditions and are, somehow, still doing a halfway decent job. That said, they look like something out of Mad Max; there’s nothing fake about that “earthly tarnish”. The steering head bearing has a convenient little “notch” at the twelve o’clock position, signaling its eventual demise. With a new top yoke on order, I’m presently debating the replacement of that aging bearing.
“Good judgment depends mostly on experience and experience usually comes from poor judgment”
Many of the before mentioned parts were victims of my eccentric taste in riding, whose failure was mostly accelerated by the extreme conditions of riding every day through the winter. That said, copious amounts of road salt, followed by sitting out in record rainfall unquestionably led to the seizure of various fasteners and the abundant oxidation found on the machine. Needless to say, in the time I’ve spent waiting on replacement parts, I’ve arrived at various conclusions about how to do things better in the future.
They sell these cool little packets of anti-seize in front of the check-out counter at the auto parts store; they’re great for when you pick up a new set of spark plugs. Those packets have just enough to smear on those steel plug threads before you seat them in that aluminum engine head. I went ahead and invested in one of those nice big jugs of anti-seize; it comes with a brush attached to the lid an everything. By definition, this stuff is exactly what should’ve been on those “stainless” steel bolts that are presently seized in that aluminum triple-tree yoke.
Use small wrenches
I’ve heard this advice before… and somehow have failed to listen to it in my haste. The Scrambler is covered in 8mm bolts. I have an appropriately sized 8mm open-end wrench in my tool kit; that way I can’t apply more than the specified 9 newton-meters of torque on the pint-sized fasteners. Having broken no less than two of these 8mm bolts on the Speedmaster, these mini-wrenches also go hand and hand with some other rules: use the smallest wrench possible, never use two hands to tighten, and put the head of your ratchet in the palm of your hand when torquing down fasteners. Using small hand tools on small fasteners keeps you from over-torquing, and in my case, breaking bolts. Again, had I not ham-fisted those vice-grips on that easy-out, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story. Oh, and always follow up with a good torque wrench…
PB Blaster is your friend
Knowing full well the spokes were seized on that front rim, I soaked it in penetrating oil for a whole day. When the job of tightening the spokes was about done; with the tire remounted, I noticed one spoke was just a bit off, so I torqued it. Then I torqued it a bit more. That’s when it snapped. That BP Blaster had done its job, yet I got impatient and kept pushing. That impatience cost me a lot of time and some money while I waited on replacement parts and then had to disassemble several spokes to insert the replacement. Lesson learned, I hosed down the front suspension of my car the day before I tackled replacing the front shocks this week. Penetrating oil isn’t foolproof, but it’s likely to save you from extracting a broken bolt, or at least busting your knuckles and rounding off a nut you’re going to need later for reassembly.
While this is conjecture, I’m debating on investing in a few cans of ACF-50 spray. I’ve heard rumors elsewhere on the interwebs that some motorcyclists spray down their steed before winter riding, that way less rust and corrosion set up shop when the bike is parked in the cold damp garage (or porch). Seems reasonable that I would be the perfect person to test this theory…
Painting Myself into a Corner
If it’s not already obvious, I’ve struggled to produce new material for the website over the past few months. Red River Scramble is mostly fun and games for me, I love doing it, and plan on continuing with the tradition as long as people are having fun. What I didn’t realize is how much mental capacity I had dedicated to the preparation for the rally. With the rally over, looking at a “busted” bike, I didn’t realize what a “low spot” I found myself in. Years ago the wife was giving me a hard time about getting fussy about broken bolts and so on. There are a million memes on the internet about dudes acting funny about a broken bike, but it’s very much “a thing”. Nothing bugs me more than a machine that I can’t fix. Part of it is impatience, and part of it is being “beaten” by the machine. I think it was Lemmy that told me I should “open another beer and contemplate the problem”. Its good advice, and yet another lesson I should apply more liberally.
This emotional “funk” about the broke bike is also coupled with the fall-out surrounding the unconscious evolution of my riding taste. With a retro-standard-sport-touring-adventure motorcycle parked next to a 250 dual-sport, I have a lot of options when looking for somewhere to ride. In both cases, it typically means spending the whole day in the saddle, in search of remote roads, paved or otherwise. Mostly to my enjoyment, but sometimes mental detriment, that often means I’m riding solo. While more and more I find it refreshing to explore by my lonesome, I also like showing people new places and sharing the adventure with like-minded riders. The arrival of the lightweight machine has exacerbated my appreciation for the most rugged and isolated locations; places I’ve found few aspire to visit. As a guy with limited free time, I can understand that constraint, but it seems like more often it’s still a matter taste; which seems to have enhanced that feeling of isolation in the motorcycle community. This may just be all in my head, but it seems my eccentricity has left me mostly alone in my local circle of motorcyclists. Hopefully, I’m mistaken.
While looking for bolt extraction methods and shopping for replacement parts, I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over my feelings for the Scrambler. Looking at the estimated delivery date for the replacement top yoke, it dawned on me that I should have the Scrambler all fixed-up almost one year to the day from when I finished the 365-day challenge. The irony, not lost on me. Riding every day carried on well into November, but the gravity of the milestone is still very much felt in late July. I’ve been working on dotting i’s and crossing t’s, but at the same time, restoring the luster on my Hinkley twin. As much as I want to scrub away that engine grime and polish out all of that rust, I’m surprised how I still appreciate many of those blemishes that will never buff out. Each scratch tells a story, most of which are tales about a machine doing things that it likely should not, going places others will never go. Why we personify the constructions of oil and metal I don’t know, but there’s no question I still love that overweight, underrated motorcycle, even in her heavily weathered state.
The cost of 2 years of year round commuting is starting to lean on the CB500X as well. Fasteners are getting soft or stuck. Luckily I haven’t broken any bolts yet, but I also haven’t attempted to swap the rear shock that recently gave up.
Salt is not nice to “stainless” and aluminum… that’s easily the biggest takeaway right now. Really mad at myself for being impatient… hopefully you fair better.
Since we share the common pain of a bike on a lift, I can only agree that despite the frustration that may accompany the bike that doesn’t run, we can only smile and place an affectionate hand on it as we scan the memories. No, we don’t like a broken bike, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The difference between us is that your gremlins seem a bit more active on the Bonnie. My old girl is just…. old.
Let’s see who gets back on the road first.
Challenge accepted sir.
The bike is still a brick shithouse, just struggles from being an idiot and not using anti-corrosion products because I’m lazy and cheap… compounded by trying to keep 1 motorcycle road worthy every day.
I suspect that once you get this settled on the Softail, that bike will run hassle free for many years. I look forward to the day I get to add the simplicity of push rods to my garage on a permanent basis.
I got one word for you….. Sportster.
I want to sport tour a 1200… I need to rent one and see how long I can tolerate the vibration
In 2010 just prior to my departure for the Arctic Circle, my Triumph Trophy started experiencing a string of mechanical problems (carbs, bearings, suspension, etc). At 63k-miles, of which NONE of them were easy (riding through salty Winters, crossing creeks with a fat sport-touring bike, etc), things were starting to wear out. I delayed my departure by a month, and fixed everything. The repairs slowed down after that, and I quickly found my Trophy in the 70’s, and it started again. More bearings, but also things that don’t normally wearing out… nuts and bolts, brackets, metal fatigue. Replacing things that were just unheard of. From that point on, I just accepted it. Repairs were more frequent into the 80’s. Well into the 80’s, it just became a never-ending battle, bigger problems, and exhausting. …and as you already know, just shy of 90k-miles, I pulled the plug and parked it in my basement as a shrine.
There’s miles…. and then there’s hard miles. You may have a rest break after you get done with this last round, but… it’s not going to get better. Sorry to say.
A bike story is basically a life story. Full of pleasure and some frustration. As I get older I have more time so I can enjoy both. A bike journey is never forgotten. Good writing thanks!
Agreed! The microcosm of the human experience.
And probably amplified by the personification of the machine…
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