Shade Tree Mechanique

Got to work on my buddy Morgan’s bike last night and had a wonderful time. For fun, I’d rather work on a old bike than most other diversions, especially on a nice Spring day under a big shady tree. Morgan’s dog, a top-notch, obedient four-year old kept us company, perhaps pouting a bit that our attentions were focused on a big pile of rubber, metal and plastic instead of her. I asked Morgan for a soda pop, and he gave me a grape energy drink in a tall can. Good on a hot day, refreshing, slightly strange futuristic taste.

He got himself a Kawasaki KZ440 LTD with a belt-drive a season or two ago. Nice medium-sized bike with a big, black leather seat. Parallel twin four-stroke. The thing would not turn over but the ignition worked and the starter seemed to work fine, at least audibly, per Morgan. The battery was new and fully charged.

My buddy had drained the gas, so we put in a quarter ounce of fuel stabilizer I brought along and he filled the tank back up. I was also armed with my. trusty tool kit, chemicals and other handy bike bits in a cardboard box, once a home to an exceptional case of local root beer.

The air filter checked out A-OK, but the oil looked high and fried in the engine case’s tiny clear window. Looking at the plugs next, they were recently changed Morgan said, but we found them now burnt black as sin itself.

Pulling the side cover, recently repainted a vintage racing red, exposed the bike’s two junction boxes. The fuses in their sockets were not blown thank Zeus; compatible, good glass fuses for a vintage bike are not an easy find. One of the boxes was hanging loose, and got properly secured back on its mount. The same box had also become home to a spider’s nest and got a good cleaning out.

A light cleaning with grease and fine grain sandpaper cleaned the plugs well enough to provide a proper spark. After a light puff of starter fluid in the air intake, she started but the idle was very weak. Sounded indistinct and weary. There was a good spark coming through on both wires, but the poor thing would stall out without some generous throttle twisting, even with the choke wide open. The choke lever felt loose and ineffective too.

A short walk to a nearby Advance Auto Parts allowed my buddy to put three quarts of motorcycle-quality 10W40 in his arsenal. Draining the oil reservoir produced a tub of black, foamy goo and sludge. The cylinders were not having a good time trying to churn that muck.

Pulling the oil filter revealed it was shot, meaning one more trip to Advance. Inspecting it, I found a tiny flake of metal or two. Sludge was caked in the filter holder’s crevices, requiring a little spray oil and elbow grease to wipe out. Gritty. Not good, but not a deal breaker either. I theorized the flakes were probably off the valves or maybe worse the cylinders. I recommended a thorough valve job and engine case inspection, including a Sea-Foam cleaning down the line, but it was not enough worry to quit the current job about.

The folks at Advance have their act well in gear, and had a Fram CH6012 oil filter ready on the shelf. Advance caters to the motorcyclist with lots of items and has good customer service too; Double-A, Pep Boys and AutoZone need to turn it up a notch.

Gaskets replaced, we put the oil filter in its new home. We carefully filled the crankcase, stopping to turn it over a couple times to let the oil settle and work its way into the engine and filter.
Morgan’s neighbor Bob dropped by to watch the show and entertained us with stories of the motorcycles of his long ago youth. He spoke dreamily of long-gone Norton Commando 750s, Triumphs, the perfect Moto Guzzi, the BMW that should have been bought but somehow got away.

Satisfied that the bike’s oil level was up to par, Morg’ fired her up for a good warm-up. The bike started strong, then stumbled a bit. I adjusted the choke; the once feeble lever tightened up and started to work well again, providing the desired mix of air and gas. Old Kaw’s with carbs take a few minutes to warm up and the bike started sounding better, then even better. Reaching a good idle with the choke now off, I told it’s rider to “kick ‘er in the guts”. A confident roar from the engine, a single tiny puff of smoke from the left exhaust, and the bike was now idling sweetly, making the nice, polite “tucka-tucka” sound of a side-by-side vertical twin. Twisting the throttle made her let out a strong, lovely purr.

Sun still up, there was time for some detail work too. I brought a pile of clean shop rags and gave her a good rub down. Cleaning off the layers of grime revealed a solid, shiny bike under there. A little more grease and rust remover allowed my buddy to adjust the front turn signal lamp that had slid down the handlebars a bit.

The rear left turn signal looked droopy but intact; a previous owner managed to give it a good whack I bet, then cobbled it back together. I recommend not rushing that fix, and checking online if any bits or spacers were missing. But, the hour was getting late, and other affairs beckoned me. Morg’ offered me a burger for my trouble, but I had to hit the road.

I heard today that the bike is doing great and 20 miles-per-hour faster on the top-end. Morgan was “psyched” too that a buddy just came over and fixed his bike. That kind of makes me chuckle as working on bikes, mine or friends, is my joy. Motorcycles can contain mysteries, puzzles, and have their own personalities. Fixing them iss like when you get to meet somebody new, making them better than they were, helping them on their way. For me, the feeling is close to the charge I get when teaching people when they are a receptive, grateful student, or lending a hand to my favorite charities. You can’t beat that feeling, and it stays with you, way down the line.


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