Friday, June 22, 2012

A MOTORCYCLE RANT

Harley Road King - Big Red


I guess before I get into the issues and to maintain credibility, it would be beneficial to the reader to understand my background in motorcycles.  I've been sort of an eccentric much of my life when it comes to two wheels.  I've been riding motorcycles for 45 years and the early years found me more inclined to ride the things than eat.  As an example - I rode 78,000 miles in 1974 on a BMW R90/6.  I loved that bike.  I have to bounce around with the dates because I'm writing this as things come to mind.  Continuity of time doesn't really pertain to the issue I'm about to bring up.  1975 found me on another R90.  I worked at Volkswagen Corporation in New Stanton, Pennsylvania as a line supervisor.  One Friday night after the shift ended - I decided to take an all night ride.  I jumped on the BMW parked in the company lot and headed west on I-70.  St Louis appeared ahead and I drove on through.  The Welcome to Denver sign appeared and I blew right on past.  It wasn't long before I noticed a Welcome to California sign. The ride was great.  It was hot out and rain was a stranger.  I pressed on almost to the ocean.  The gas tank was filled and I found a rest stop to lay down under a picnic table.  The map indicated I was 50 miles from the big water.  After four hours sleep I hit the road east and backtracked over the same road I came on.  I arrived back in Scottdale, Pennsylvania two nights later.  I didn't care where I was going.  I just loved to keep the wheels turning.  Work started at 1PM the following day.  1976 found me on another BMW.  I had two weeks vacation and decided to circumnavigate the United States.  I took off and didn't stop until I got to Montana.  A quick two hour rest and off again to Washington state and down the coast through Oregon and past San Francisco to Ba-Ha.  and east.  I rode as close to the border as I could.  I believe Interstate 10 was used.  Its been a long time.  Welcome to Texas and then Florida and on to the coast and North to Main.  The BMW was working perfectly.  I followed the southern edge of Lake Erie and drove straight south to Pennsylvania and home.  Total time on the road was 5 days.  I owned a BMW Motorcycle store in the late eighties.  I quit it after about 8 years for personal reasons.  Over a million miles traveled.  So, now you have a bit of flavor about my motorcycle past.  There is a life time of motorcycle memories we won't go into here.  This brings me to the rant part of this whole mess.  Note the manufacture notice below:




I posted the document extra large as beauty isn't of importance here.  This is a recall notice on certain BMW and Ducati motorcycle models.  Notice the recall for BMW is for connecting rod bolts that "may" become loose.  The connecting rod in an engine is a high strength metal arm that is connected on one end to the crank shaft and a piston is connected to the other end.  So, it can come loose when hot and it may actually come off the crankshaft.  Connecting rods are to an engine as the arteries are to your heart.  In short - they have been in engines forever and there is no high tech processes involved to make them a part of any engine.  BMW has had a reputation for reliability and building superior riding machines forever.  If a connecting rod can come loose then, it was never tightened properly in the first place.  This is shoddy workmanship.  Its possible that the bolt hardness or the thread pitch were incorrect during the design process.  But, I'd bet some goober didn't tighten them up during his shift.  This reflects poorly on BMW's quality control programs.  Remember - one can not inspect quality into a  product.  Quality has to be built in.  I bought two BMW's, both in 1998 and both were two cylinder engine models.  I always preferred simplicity.  
Yep, Me on the Dragon (Ducati 800)


The first one had a surge in the operation of it.  It ran like it had a lean carburetor even though it was fuel injected.  I had been the owner of a BMW dealership prior this event so I knew who to call.  The chief maintenance/warranty guy at BMW headquarters said they pretty much are designed that way and there wasn't anything that could be done.  In short - can't fix a design issue.  I sold the bike and bought another one immediately only a different model.  The same issue existed.  The tech guy was right.  They were designed incorrectly.  The problem was they didn't care that I just spent $22,000 on two BMW's within six months of each other.  I decided to buy a four cylinder model.  I've been with BMW all my life and I'd try the new fangled model.  I road tested one and it ran fine.  I bought it.  That was the last BMW I ever owned and I'll not go back to them.


The Ducati issue above is ridiculous.  Brake pad material that seperates from their backings is due to buying the crappie junk from Shreilanka, however its spelled.  My quality of spelling equals their ability to make brake pads for motorcycles.  The manufacturers these days are saving manufacturing costs by purchasing the cheapest materials possible to get the job done according to specs that contain reduced quality requirements.   In the old days motorcycles were built with the "best" possible materials, even better materials than were required.  The assembly operations were checked and double checked.  Those early machines could be depended upon to get you back home.  Connecting rods coming loose is unheard of.  The brake pad issue with Ducati is nothing new.  Motorcycle manufacturers have always erred toward the side of junk for brake pads and shoes.  The first thing a person in the know would buy for his bike was a new set of brake pads made in the United States or France.  The connecting rod issue is pure neglect.  The problem is that today riders will buy anything and put up with anything.  The average guy or gal simply buys a bike that looks good, sits good or one their neighbor, the expert, says to get.
KLR Kawasaki - current mount


In the early days riders understood how a motorcycle worked.  As things wore out - they would address it with their own hands.  The simple repairs gave them mechanical knowledge about the bike and later more difficult repairs were not as trying.  The result was that a rider could do most anything on his own motorcycle to keep it running.  It was a good feeling when one is cruising across Death Valley and bends a push rod and is capable of fixing it.   
Harley Soft Tail -- Whitey


Today's riders are dealer reliant.  That's exactly what manufacturers and dealers want.  They are all about money.  Bring it in at a thousand miles and pay them $500 for the first service.  The second service is at 10,000 miles and is a bigger service..  Reach for $750 on that one.  I can't understand why today's riders aren't more self reliant.  Not all are that way.  Many, many can build a bike in their sleep.  I'm talking about the average out of high school guy who buys a bike.   I used to sell bikes.  The old days, 60's and 70's found riders buying form and function.  Today its looks.  They walk into the showroom and head for the most chrome covered, custom painted bike in the place.  When asked what he wants to use the machine for he answers, "I want to travel distance."  Yep, all that chrome will help out there.  The bike has the wrong wheel size, horsepower and transmission gear ratios for touring.  He doesn't care and buys it.  Six months later he's back trying to trade it in losing a years depreciation and getting a low price.  He complains and says he's buying a Honda and never coming back.  It was all due to his first bike purchase.  He bought looks and not function.  And - he wouldn't listen to the guy who told him not to buy it.  That guy was me.  Idiot!  I have no patience with idiots who just start riding and somehow know more than someone who is trying to help them with 45 years experience under his belt.


Dealers in the 60's, 70's and 80's even were sincerely interested in the product they sold.  When a customer had a problem, the problem was diagnosed and repaired better than new.  Now days a computer is plugged into the wire harness and hopefully the technician, usually a 22 year old motorcycle school graduate, will be able to read the problem on the diagnostic screen.  Those screens even tell the tech what parts to replace.  If the computer can't figure it out - the kid has to call the manufacturer hot line and ask them.  THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND THE THEORY.   So, how can a dealer charge $85.00 an hour if his employees don't understand the mechanics of what they are trying to fix?  Motorcycle mechanics today don't even know how to fix a carburetor because fuel injection is the method of fuel delivery today.


I'm feeling better the more I write.


This recall notice was published very recently just after I had my Kawasaki single cylinder bike serviced.  Here's what happened:


The bike was due to have the valves checked and the fork oil changed.  I'm lazy.  I took it to the Kawasaki dealer and dropped it off.  I figured I'd get shafted for about $400 at the outside.  I called in a week and they said they ordered valve shims for it.  OK, at least they started.  Two weeks go by and I called again.  They were busy as heck and short a tech as he went of vacation.  I told them I needed the bike in a week for a Blue Ridge Parkway trip.  Still no call from them.  I called again and it still wasn't done although the tank and fairing was off it and they were waiting on parts.  I asked what this was going to cost. They said I was at $680.00 now.  I said I'll be over to pick it up.  I drove the thirty miles with the trailer and got the bike.  They charged me $150.00 for taking the parts off the bike.  I took it home and found they never took one bolt out of the valve cover.  How did they know it needed valve shims if they didn't measure the valve clearance yet?  They lied to me.  They were loading up on work (dollars) in the shop to hit a monthly dollar goal for their department at the end of the month.  Problem was they couldn't complete the work.  Liars and thieves.  I hate both.   I tore into it the next night and found the valves were fine and needed no shims for adjustment.  The fork oil was changed in an hour and a half.  Labor cost zero.  My story is the story of motorcycling today.


It never was termed a sport years ago.  Today its called a sport.  I can't figure where "sport" fits into motorcycling.  Is your car a sport?  Anyway, its a rich persons luxury these days. New riders can find bikes of all prices and some are affordable.  Just wait until it has to go into the dealer for something he doesn't understand.


A little bit of history may be in order here.  A blacksmith named Pierre Michaux was drinking wine and chasing the waitress around the inn one day and got the idea to add automated mechanical power to his velocipede bicycle - his invention.  The velocipede was the first bicycle with pedals.  He called his new invention, with pedals, a Michauline. 
She's a sweetheart alright


 In 1863 his son got a patent in the U.S. for the addition of a steam engine to be attached to the Michauline.  The story continues but the point is the design and engineering of motorcycles goes back about 150 years.  Some will say the 1902 Ogden was the first motorcycle.  I'm making a point here.  Loose connecting rods and brake pads that come apart will kill ya and a recall after the fact sucks, to put it bluntly.  BMW is functioning on their reputation these days and there are many Japanese machines that will run them into the ground.  Ducati's are engineered with antique fuel delivery and valve function.  Its all about cost.  Its all about the dollar.  What is the answer to all this griping?  Be more self sufficient.  Learn about the mechanics of what you own.  That statement applies to not only motorcycles but anything you buy.  Cameras, cars, airplanes, boats, engines, hiking - whatever it is you are interested in.  Learn about it and be self sufficient or don't complain about dealer labor rates and exorbitant costs.  Wow - I'm not sure what I wrote or why but, I feel better.