Road Karma

A group of guys traveling cross country from New Jersey made an emergency pit stop at the house over the weekend.  I saw a post on a Facebook page from the previous day that Marco’s BMW R90 had a wheel bearing go out in Gallup and gave him a call to see if they still needed help. He thought it was a loose axle and fixed it by tightening the nut but by the time they rolled through Albuquerque it turns out it actually was the bearing and it had grenaded on the way here.

I swear these old Beemers are very reliable bikes once you go through and fix all their weak points. I read the blog they have been keeping of their trip, , and sadly it seems like the BMW has been having every textbook failure in the book,  charging system, ignition system, starting system, front and rear wheel bearings..  Good thing his bike has a beefy reinforced subframe carrying all that weight so he shouldn’t experience the broken frame problem as well.   Just think, by the time you get home you’ll have a well sorted rebuilt bike that can go anywhere.

The bearing on Marco’s bike must have gotten super hot as it was destroying itself and part of it was seized on the axle making it impossible to remove to get the rear wheel off.  Unfortunately my Dremel tool, and also my grandfathers hammer, were stolen in a breakin and both would have come in real handy.  I had to call in some help from my neighbor to cut the bearing off.

Originally I had planned on just swapping out the bearing from my wheel to his and calling it a day but since it took an hour and a half just to get his wheel off so we decided to just swap the whole wheel instead and deal with getting parts back to the right owners later.  It is only fitting since he’s already changed out the front wheel along the way too.

I was very impressed that little Robert who had been sick and fussy for several days thought all of this was fascinating and amazingly watched the whole thing for a couple of hours which was the longest he’d gone without crying all weekend. Even when he is not sick he won’t sit still for that amount of time. We’ll make a motorcycle mechanic out of him yet.

I thought I’d write this post after a friend asked Why? the next day after explaining how I’d smashed my thumb with a roofing hammer helping some motorcyclists that I’d never met before they rolled up in my driveway.

I’m not sure why I do what I do, even before I got into motorcycles I’d helped over 100 stranded motorists.  At the time living out in the country and frequently traveling dirt back roads with a less than reliable Jeep I had to become proficient in fixing my own stuff to keep going and had to carry a full set of necessary tools with me at all times.  As you experience new problems that you weren’t prepared for your tool kit grows, like after the time I overheated and had to hike back and forth to a windmill for water with only an empty soda can to carry it in I started carrying a gallon of water and antifreeze with me at all times.  With a rolling mechanics shop in the back I knew I could fix most common issues and get people to their destination so why not?  Helping those in need makes you feel good after doing your good deed for the day.

When I drove my Jeep pickup I did everything from countless jump starts to replacing a thermostat in the grocery store parking lot and more than once more than once having to do CPR on a crash victim before emergency responders arrived. Back then cell phones were a rare item and even after they became more common there was no coverage outside of the bigger towns so if you broke down between towns you were screwed. Learning to be self sufficient and prepared was a necessity.

I am a firm believer that what goes around comes around.  You shouldn’t expect it but many of those that I have helped have returned the favor later on, I got invited to a wedding reception for fixing a thermostat and even got out of a speeding ticket when the officer remembered my truck as the one that had helped a family member a few months earlier and occasionally had a few 20’s forced on me here and there. One rider gave me $100 for fixing an oil leak her bike, when I refused payment I found she had stuffed the money in my saddlebag.

After I got the V Star and used that as my primary vehicle and really couldn’t carry all the tools I had before I got a little bummed that I couldn’t help people like I used to, I had to pass by all those cars with hoods up in parking lots waiting for a jump start.  It was then that we started going on motorcycle trips that I discovered a whole new level of Road Karma, helping fellow cross country travelers.  When you give a soccer mom a jump start in the grocery store parking lot her day has just been slightly inconvenienced, when you help out someone on a cross country bike trip 2000 miles from home who’s already been on the road for several weeks you can be a god send!

Unless you have broken down thousands of miles away on a road trip without knowing anyone to call for help for several time zones you really don’t know what it is like. You are stuck, there is no going anywhere until you solve the problem and most of the time you’ve already gone way over budget by then too so a really expensive repair could be the end of the trip. Those that have been there will usually drop everything to help a fellow rider in need and bend over backwards to help someone in the middle of a trip. It is also a neat way to meet fellow travelers and hear about where they’ve been and in a small way become part of their trip.

I’ve also found that you are far more likely to run into road trippers that you’ve helped again. After you’ve saved their butt in the past they are happy to be able to return the favor and fellow road trippers like to travel a lot so you are more likely to meet them on the road and at gatherings.

Who knows, that random person you helped field strip and repair their bike in your girl friend’s mother’s driveway …

may offer you a bed to sleep on in Texas.

Or the guy who gave you a free stay at a nice hotel they’d won at a poker run in Arizona

you may run into at a meet up in Texas where you can give them an inflatable mattress you didn’t need.

If you decide to go on road trips eventually you will need the kindness of strangers so it is good to have lots of Road Karma points in the bank. Even if you don’t break down you’ll need a new tire or maintenance item along the way and getting your bike in for a quick thing without an appointment can still be a problem.  More than once we’ve been told by dealerships that their schedule was booked and we’d have to come back a few days or a week later and have had techs sneak us in under their foreman’s nose to do a quick tire change and get us back on the road.  Thanks guys at Adventure Motorsports !

We’ve also had to deal with asshole managers at oil change places and had techs step in to save the day.

Sometimes it is nice just to get out of the tent and have a couch or bed to sleep on without paying for a motel.

So don’t think that you’ll never need help along the your trip with your super reliable bike.

Whether you’re packing light and traveling by sweet Excelsior-Henderson …

or petal power …

or taking everything with you …

including the kitchen sink …

or traveling by well used and abused classics …

or brand new rides for a father/son cross country trip, eventually you’ll need help from someone.

So what can you do to earn some good road karma?

  • Offer your trade skills:  If your frame breaks you aren’t going anywhere until you find a welder …

  • Being able to fabricate new parts from scrap metal instead of having to wait for an overnight or a back ordered piece is great!

  • If you are mechanically inclined or just have a good set of tools to borrow that may be enough to get someone back on the road.

  • Write a repair article. If you don’t want to host your own blog other sites will welcome guest posts for your content and you may even get paid for it.

  • If you don’t know how to work a screw driver you can still carry a set of jumper cables, if you don’t know how to use them chances are the other guy does and sooner or later you’ll need them yourself, it’ll save you an hour wait for AAA to show up.  Any basic set will do, I have the heavy duty extra long 25 foot kind after my truck had a dead battery in a downhill space in the corner of a lot and we had to find 3 pairs of cables to daisy chain together to reach.  With these ones I can park behind someone and still give them a jump, the downside is they are heavy and bulky and don’t fit in my car I drive now.

What if you have no mechanical ability at all?

  • You can still offer your garage, spare bedroom or couch as a place to stay:

  • Recommend some amazing hole in the wall eateries you think they might like, like this sadly now out of business Greatful Dead themed pizza joint that had wall to wall memorabilia of the band and played the Greatful Dead channel on a big screen TV up front, my friend who was passing through on a Greatful Dead themed bike thought it was great!

  • Do a tour of the local sights around your town.

  • Or do a longer tour and show off some of the best motorcycle roads.  I have taken days off work to lead travelers through the best back roads to the Colorado border.

  • Throw an epic BBQ and get together to welcome a fellow forum member on a long trip. This is how some annual meet and greets got started and now people come from several states away to attend.

  • Or arrange a behind the scenes tour of a gator farm.

  • Or a behind the scenes tour of an aquarium to show how dolphins are cared for.


I am thankful that we have not had a major breakdown on any of our trips that I was not able to fix on our own.  Not to say we haven’t had a few scrapes to get through, there was the time that my auxiliary light broke off and destroyed my fender in the process on the Texas coast …

Or the frustrating time in Washington state that it took me over an hour to figure out that a mosquito had gotten into the carbs while I was changing jets and caused us to loose one cylinder a while later.

Or overheating issues in Utah.

Or the time a lady backed into the bike in Oregon

Or an Excursion crashed into us in Albuquerque.


It is practically impossible to plan every detail of an epic road trip ahead of time, you may want to spend longer in one place or less in another and lets face it, shit happens.  You may not make your motel reservation due to a wind storm that shut down the interstate, or it may take 3 days to ride the 101 across Oregon instead of 1 because you didn’t plan on being there on the 4th of July and getting stuck in 6 hours worth of parade speed traffic.  You have to be flexible and roll with the punches.

I’ve always said if everything went according to plan life would be too boring. Getting through those obstacles and deviations from the plan is what life is all about, you will always remember the time your engine exploded on the way to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve and you and your future wife nearly froze to death waiting for help, you probably won’t remember the same routine trip when nothing happened.

When you break down and things are looking dim just remember someone will be along to help you out of the jam and think of it as another opportunity to meet more interesting people.  When things are at their lowest it can only get better right?

Look forward to what you’ll see over the horizon when you get back on the road and what a great story this will be when you get home.

Ride Safe.

Electrosport Stator Failure

My pickup coil and stator replacement that I did a while back did not go so well in the long term.  The bike worked great for 7 to 8 months and then started having problems with the battery holding a charge. If I rode in the rain for more than 10 to 15 minutes the battery would drain and become dead as a doornail and the engine would die leaving me on the side of the road in the rain and having to push start it after the rain stopped.   Several of these battery drain events occurring were enough to kill a battery.

Since the battery mostly only drained completely in wet conditions and otherwise started up and ran fine it took me a very long time to diagnose the problem.  I assumed I had a short that occurred in wet conditions and cut apart and went through the entire wiring harness more than once.  I cleaned every connection and switch with electrical cleaner and then treated every connection with dielectric grease when that didn’t work.   I did attach a digital voltage meter to the bars and noticed it was running a bit low at 12.4V at speed but not all _that_ bad and attributed it to my phantom short.

I had just changed the stator and assumed it had to be anything but that. I did check the ohms across all 3 coils just to be sure and all read in spec. After months of frustration and pulling my hair out and going through 3 dead batteries that weren’t cheap I gave up, admitted defeat and thought about trading in my bike on something else.

A tip from a friend to try before I did anything rash was to check the AC voltage straight from the stator since I had done everything else.  With nothing to loose I ran the bike off a fully charged battery and the fuel line stuck down in a small cup of gas and plugged the multimeter (on AC Voltage) test probes into the 3 wire connector from the stator in every combination.  What I found:  28V 28V and 2V !!!   Eureka!  I was only running on 2/3 of my stator.  No freaking wonder I was having problems!

FINALLY I knew what was wrong, I cracked the bike open and this was what I found. Crispy!    Sure enough the stator was toast and one of the coils was burned up completely.

Continue reading Electrosport Stator Failure

Help! My V Star 650 Wont Start!

You know how it is.  The weather is starting to warm up and you are getting that itch to go riding after all that cabin fever, you go out to the garage and lo and behold your trusty steed refuses to fire up.  What do you do?

Ok, not my V Star, but I get asked this enough this time of year that I’ve decided to do a quick diagnostic post that I can point to instead of writing all of this over and over.



1.  PILOT JETS!!   Did your bike work fine when you parked it for winter several months ago and now won’t start?   Check that the pilot jets are not gummed up, this is a VERY common issue with the V Star 650’s. If the bike has been sitting long at all I would check and clean the pilots regardless.   Also if the bike will start under full choke but will not run off choke, pilot jets!   Check here for some videos documenting how to clean the carbs.   If you have Ziv’s stainless carb screws installed, cleaning the pilots is a breeze and does not take more than 15 or 20 minutes.   For cleaning out the pilot jets, the wire out of a bread tie is the perfect size.

2. Battery.   Again, bike sat all winter and now it won’t crank.   Not to worry, its most likely just your battery.   If it drained enough over winter to not start again you can throw a trickle charger on there and maybe get going but typically a battery can not handle many deep cycle charges like this and you’ll want to start looking for a new battery when your finances allow.

2a.  Battery terminals.  If your battery tests good but you are still getting no crank or the relay is buzzing, clean off those terminals!   One of my batteries was working fine till it decided to loose a connection and left me stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception.  Took me a while to try cleaning the connections as one last ditch effort and what do you know the bike fired right up.

3. Air leaks.   I hate air leaks they are always difficult to hunt down.  Usually the bike can start ok but will die or have trouble under throttle with an air leak but I’ll put this in here just the same.  Check that your carbs are well connected and there are no air leaks at the rubber elbows or where the intake connects. It is easy to over tighten those air box or GAK POD filter connections causing them to pop off, snug is good, too tight is not.   If its none of the usual culprits check that the rubber boots that connect to the air ports under the carbs on the elbows have not dry rotted, or if you have AIS be sure none of those rubber air lines have cracked and started leaking.   A good way to test for air leaks is once the bike is running again spray something near those connections and lines and listen for the RPMs to go up something like starting fluid or even WD40 will work.

4. Pickup coil.  If the bike cranks well and the fuel system is working well but you are still getting no spark or weak spark, check the pickup coil.   The 2 wire connection under the tank is the best place to measure the resistances like stated at the top of  this document.     If your pickup coil is indeed toast here is how to fix that, I’m sorry to tell you its a bit involved and somewhat of an expensive replacement.

5.  Ignition coils.   Does the bike have a hard time starting or only runs much of the time on one cylinder until it warms up?   If you’ve already checked the fuel system, Check the coils under the tank.   Coil problems often mimic carb problems or is it the other way around?


This is just a quick writeup I’m sure I’ll think of others in time and add them here.   If you think of something to add let me know in the comments and I’ll put it in too.


6.  Fuel.   You did turn the fuel on didn’t you?  I know its obvious but you put the bike a way months ago and forgot to turn the fuel back on.  It’s embarrassing and happens to the best of us, I won’t tell if you won’t.

7. Safety Switches.  Kill Switch, Nuetral Switch, Clutch Switch, Kickstand Switch.  The bike will not run with the kill switch off or the clutch out and the kickstand down while in gear.  We’ll forgive you if you forgot the startup sequence after the long winter.    Also if your bike refuses to turn over and all the fuses are good and the battery is good, start checking all of those switches mentioned for failure.  It is possible to disable them by shorting them or remove them completely but they are on there for a good reason.

V Star 650 Neutral Switch Oil Leak Fix


Oh No!  After the extreme cold weather my V Star 650 is pretending to be a Harley Davidson again! (Its just a joke people jeez, bikers are so sensitive. I know HD’s quality is not anywhere near as bad as the AMF days anymore)

Sooner or later if you have a xsv650 variant you will get this annoying leak by the kickstand.  Not to fear this is a very easy fix that even the most non-mechanically inclined can fix.  For me this problem seems to happen most often in the cold of winter, I think it is due to the plastic switch being set into the aluminum engine and the different materials expanding at different rates, or it could just be the cold O ring not sealing as good.  Who knows, but eventually all bikes seem to get this leak.

  • Pull the fake Transmission cover off. There are only 4 bolts holding it on, they will be the ones with the washer and rubber behind it. The other bolts on the Classic cover are fake and for show only, they don’t go to anything.  Your guess is as good as mine why they put fake screws on there, maybe its supposed to make the cover look cool and less like a fake tranny or as we would say “lipstick on a pig.”
  • Remove the crescent moon shaped cover, just 2 bolts here.

  • Check your stator wires grommet for leaks.  Another leak can happen from here that is much more difficult to fix.  These look good and seem to be holding since the Stator Replacement.

  • As you can see my leak this time is from the plastic neutral switch.   9 times out of 10 this will be the source of your oil leak from the kickstand area.


Continue reading V Star 650 Neutral Switch Oil Leak Fix

Cleaning V Star 650 Carburetors

Its that time of year again, I let the bike sit too long over winter without first putting Seafoam in the gas and now the pilot jets in my carbs are clogged up and the bike won’t run off choke.    I thought about doing a post on how to clean out the carbs but since someone already went through the trouble of doing some fairly nice videos of the process I’ll just use those instead.  Parts of these videos are wrong here and there and while the guy looks like he knows what he’s doing its apparent he hasn’t done much with this particular carb or bike before, but overall they are ok.  Enjoy.

Most of the time you would not need to fully disassemble the carbs to clean them, however if you do so be sure to use Ziv’s stainless replacement screws as it makes future maintenance a breeze. If the bike has only been sitting a short while and will not start or will not idle off of choke then 90% of the time the pilot jets are clogged and just need to be cleaned not the entire carb.  If you happen to have Ziv’s screws already on your carbs you can very easily clean out the pilot jets (or swap main jets) in about 5 to 15 minutes without taking the tank off.  Maybe I’ll do a future post on that process.

This one is a good example of the differences between a California model V Star (in the video) vs a 49 state model (mine).  Most likely you would not have to deal with the extra gas tank vent lines.

I also wouldn’t even bother with the fuel catch jar.  What are you saving? 5 drops?   Just hold a rag under the petcock when you pull off the fuel line and call it good as the numerous pics of me on this blog doing the same have shown:

Continue reading Cleaning V Star 650 Carburetors

Fall Ride

We went for a nice ride today to get a picture for a scavenger hunt from the CC&D forum which ended up taking us into new territory that I didn’t know existed.  The fall colors of all the cotton woods and aspens were spectacular, quite a surprise.  The colors visible from Santa Fe up on the ski hill had already faded, they usually peak the week of Columbus day and we’d had an early snow which knocked all the leaves off.

We went from Glorieta to Pecos along the old Route 66 winding through the amazing colors and from there we came to a crossroads where I had no idea where we were or where any of the roads went.  We decided to head north and see where the road took us where we found a cool monastery and down a dirt road a lake surrounded by orange and yellow.

There were fishermen everywhere!  All along the road cars were parked on the shoulders and any little pullout and down in the river were fly fishers in waders and even more along the shore.   This guy had one nice catch and 4 smaller ones, he said someone had pulled a big one out just a week earlier.  Further up the road from the monastery lake was a fish hatchery, I bet they keep the waters around here very well stocked.


We saw several tiny tiny towns and some cool old buildings along the way.

Be sure to fill up ahead of time, highway 63 dead ends up the mountain and you have to back track to get down.  This old Conoco pump looks like its been dry a very long time.

Up at the very top was Jack’s Creek Campground.   Very cool!  Can’t believe I had no idea any of this was back here, this would make a good place to go camping close by.

Eventually we made our way to Las Vegas where we met up with my former boss and got some of his home grown squash!   Pretty awesome day for a ride.

DIY Crankcase Breather Catch Can

After doing the GAK mod to my bike I have noticed that the crankcase breather likes to spit oil all over everything when doing lots of Interstate travel at 80+ MPH.  Its usually not so bad but if doing 4 or 500 miles or more it can start to drip down the side covers and generally make a mess along with building up lots of gunk under the tank and coating the outsides of the carbs.

This was my home grown attempt to fix that problem on the cheap.

Heres what I used, a few plumbing fixtures, another new filter, and a Jim Beam salt shaker can I had laying around and never threw out aka free!

Ignore those scrub pads, Do NOT USE SCRUB PADS.    Many types of scrub pads use fine embedded abrasives which could destroy your engine if they got introduced into the oil.  Since it is hard to determine which have them and which don’t its better not to take the risk.

I had to seal up the seams on my can to get it water tight.  it was able to hold a full cup of water overnight without spilling, hopefully that should do.

I did not have much room to work with so I have the air going in from the side and exiting through the top,  many of these catch can designs use a long internal tube for the line to the bike and a short internal tube for the line to the filter.  Either way will work, you mainly want to create a change in direction for the airflow inside to help separate the oil gases from the air.

I have this side connector cocked to the side for clearance under the tank.

Testing the fit, perfect.    The only problem with this location is you will eventually need to take the tank off to drain this can.  You could also use a longer line and attach your catch can where the AIS components used to be.

Instead of using scrub pads I used a lawn mower air filter.   Since this media is designed for air intakes to begin with it should be fine for the engine and help filter out the oil mist a little better.



UPDATE:    This catch can worked beautifully for over a year but one day I noticed a few drips on my floorboards on the right side and sure enough it was coming from this catch can.  I pulled the tank to check if it was full but nope it was seeping through the seams in the can!  I hadn’t sealed it good enough.   I have removed this until I can find something else to use for the container, preferably something made in one piece with no seams.

V Star 650 pickup coil and stator replacement

Replacing a Yamaha V Star 650 pickup coil and stator:

For a bit of background story on how I ended up here, a new mechanic stripped the oil filter bolt that happens pretty easily on these bikes. Unfortunately, when fixing it he got metal flakes down in the engine!

One day the next week I went out to start it and crankcrankcrankcrankcrank.  Oh great now what?   It took a good 25 mins to get her started that morning on the way into work and nearly the same on the way home, the next morning she was totally dead and would not start at all.   Following the diagnostics here:  I found my pickup coil was reading very high and was toast.   I was planning on maybe cracking it open that weekend to fix the sticky clutch but now I had no choice but to break open both sides.

Pulling the stator cover.

Japanese engineering likes to use lots of bolts close together at lower torque than other manufacturers. Be sure to remember exactly which bolt went in what hole, as you can see below they are all different lengths.

Also remember how your shifter is set up. I took a picture so I could tell later where the dot on the shaft goes in relation to the bracket. In my case dead center in the gap.

Unfortunately the kickstand has to come off to remove the shifter. There is a nut on the back side of the frame you need to keep from turning, it would be better if you had a helper and another set of hands for this part. I was by myself and had to use another box-end wrench on the back of the frame and a breaker bar/ratchet with a cheater pipe on the front. Yamaha really doesn’t mess around with these bolts, they were a bear to get off. Once the wrench on the back turned enough to press up against the engine or my lift I was able to break the nut free.

With the kickstand out of the way the shifter will just slide off the shaft after you remove the bolt in the previous picture.

As you can see I also upgraded from my poor mans bike stand to one from Harbor Freight for this operation for a bit more stability and lift, I needed one for the BMW restoration anyway.

Follow the wiring back up the frame and cut the zip ties as you go and remove a few bolted on wire clamps. Its a bit of a struggle to get these connectors through the downtube, use one hand to press back the big main wiring harness and press these plastic connectors through one at a time. It takes a bit of patience but you can do it.

Continue reading V Star 650 pickup coil and stator replacement

V Star 650 oil change disaster

I’ve had a lot of trouble with the V Star following our epic month long ride across the western United States and back.  It all started with a simple oil change.  You see, when I bought the bike I also got a service plan that included unlimited oil changes and all maintenence for 3 years.  I can work on my bike as you can see but I’d rather not have to on at least one of my vehicles and with as many miles as I’ve put on in the last three years this service plan ended up being a great money and time saving deal for me.   For years one of two techs has always done my bike and always done a good job, even cleaning it way better than I do most times.  Every time that is until the last time, when they were both off.  A small voice in my head warned me that I shouldnt hand over the keys to some tech I didnt know but I didnt listen.    He really torqued down the oil filter screws and stripped the center one as is an easy newbie mistake to make.

The bike leaked slowly for 8000 miles and by the end it looked something like this where its really perfected the old Harley patina with oil slung down the whole side of the engine, all down the pipes and swingarm and on the front of the saddlebag.   As RTWDoug has proved, a bike can go around the world with a nasty oil leak or dozen as long as its topped off regularly.

Unfortunately the only requirement for the primo bike parking on the sidewalk next to the door at work, no leaks!

Since they were the ones to break it they agreed to fix it at no charge but with this being New Mexico and as Ulysses Everett McGill would put it “a geographical oddity, two weeks from everywhere” it took a month to get my bike back from them due to waiting on parts.  They ended up tapping the stripped hole and putting in a timecert.  After I got her back I noticed right away the clutch was very grabby and sticky, so much so that trying to start it while cold with the clutch pulled in the bike would take off with you or lurch 5 or 6 feet when first putting it in gear.  WTF?    I immediately changed the oil and cut open the filter and just as I feared, they had gotten slivers of metal down in the engine while tapping it.  #$%^&@!!!!

Continue reading V Star 650 oil change disaster

Fender Bender

We hiked back up to where our bike was parked and there was our helmets sitting on the sidewalk next to the bike, What the hell?  Someone had been messing with the bike!   We ran over and a guy sitting in the shade came up to us and told us what had happened, they had backed into the bike with their SUV and knocked it over @#$%

Both of our helmets were dinged from falling off the seat

My Yellowstone bottle had taken the brunt of the fall, I’m so glad none of the bike ended up like this.

Only body damage, a nicked fender.   Damnit I just fixed that!  I had another one in the exact same place untill our wreck when the insurance replaced the whole fender.

Great now Both turn signal lenses are broken, one from each SUV encounter.

Continue reading Fender Bender