Tour 13 – The Art of Brand and Motorcycle Maintenance (Part 2)

In my previous post, I described the initial stages of repair necessary to ready a neglected motorcycle for Tour 13, a tour of New England in August 2013 to visit friends. The tour is promoting support for collaboration and membership on my website,

In this post, I continue my journey through the mechanical and aesthetic milestones in the rehabilitation. The annotated picture below identifies the remaining areas of consideration:

7: Failing the Clutch

A part fails as the result of usage and limitations in its design. Design is the vocation of people who use skilled judgement to determine how to accommodate the stress inflicted on a part performing a function and maintaining the appropriate interface to humans and other parts. An accident (compression, extension, etc. from an action such as a collision) can cause a catastrophic failure where a part deforms or breaks. This is an abnormal stress and the failure is excusable. Repetitive stress applied as a result of normal usage (pulling, pushing, lifting, etc.) can also cause a part to fail. Design is more to blame for parts failing under normal conditions. Well-designed products consider appropriate longevity.

Weakness of a material under repetitive stress is manifested as wear (diminishing thickness) or cracks that develop over time. Cracks in a part that has not yet failed may go unnoticed. Imagine the material along the line of eventual failure. Due to strain, atoms are moving away from each other on opposite sides of the eventual fissure. The material is weakening, but there is no visible crack. Eventually, enough atoms have separated far enough from each other to cause the break. Repetitive stress is also applied by time. In addition to the corrosion of chemical processes, aging weakens parts along unnoticed strain lines by expansion and contraction as parts heat and cool with usage or environmental conditions.

At right is an illustration of the clutch lever on my motorcycle. An image of the actual failed lever is below it. The lever failed as I was engaging the clutch during initial tests in static conditions. Occurring after only a small number of repetitions, I attribute the failure to the influence of age on the lever weakened by the repetitive stress applied over the bike’s history. The lever is constructed of an aluminum alloy. Considerations that resulted in this choice of material may have included durability, but weather-resistance, weight, price and production are also factors. I’ve encountered steel brake levers on bicycles that seemed indestructible. If durability were paramount to the clutch lever design, a stronger material may have been more suitable.

Weakness is also attributed to a part’s shape. The lever’s area of failure is indicated by a circle on the diagram above. Having experience replacing broken parts, I was not surprised where the clutch lever failed as the stress on the part is ‘visible’ to anyone considering how the linear pull of the cable is transferred to a rotation around the mounting bolt. Failure analysis is a specialty. It’s difficult to believe that the institutional knowledge of Suzuki or any other large manufacturer does not contain the details of part failures. The physical record of broken junkyard bikes is also a reference. Parts that fail on one motorcycle will fail on others for the same reasons. Design deficiencies are apparent in a simple observation – parts with obvious weaknesses or vulnerabilities are well-stocked by suppliers. Is faulty design the result of ignorance? Planned obsolescence? Deliberate motivations that promote premature failures are the scourge of responsibility and sustainability. Unfortunately, knowing how and why parts fail does not necessarily lead to better, more reliable design in subsequent revisions.

I obtained a replacement lever online for $16 plus $10 shipping. I thought I was buying from Xtreme Powersports, the OEM parts source I found for my first parts order. The receipts for the orders were markedly different. Both receipts had a URL in the upper-right corner suggesting the orders were printed from a web browser in the fulfillment center. The URLs of the first and second receipts, respectively:


Ah, the wondrous, wacky world of e-commerce. . .

8: Twisted Switcher

An obvious reason for material failure is design with disregard for usage. Related to the consideration of a part’s purpose, the utility of a part is in its service to human users, directly or indirectly. There are always human factors to be considered. The ignition switch of the motorcycle is made with a cast polymer (hard plastic) housing that encloses an electrical switch and mechanical steering fork lock. The switch provides an easy-to-use interface between a key lock mechanism and a series of contacts which create active electric circuits when solid pieces of metal bridge between them at the correct rotary position.

Turning the key to the far left or right, the electrical circuits are inactive and the switch deploys a small, square metal bar, pushing out from the polymer housing to catch on the edge of a metal strip welded to the motorcycle frame. The purpose of the fork lock is to confound theft of the bike by fixing the front wheel in the position of an extreme left or right turn. However, the material of the switch housing lacks the strength to restrain the potential force a human could apply using the handlebars to turn the wheel. The installed switch was broken as a result of its frailty in the face of intentional or unintentional abuse. The manufacturer’s solution for the switch was under-engineered and optimistic that such an abuse would not occur.

I found a used replacement switch on eBay. The original part was still intact, suggesting that the the fork lock was not regularly engaged or its strength was not truly tested. The motorcycle dismantler ‘cyclejunkie999’ accepted my offer of $35 (plus $10 shipping) for an ignition switch, seat lock, helmet lock and gas cap (the seller’s photo is shown here with the ignition switch outlined). A new OEM switch was $142. A new aftermarket switch was over $100. The eBay parts fit correctly and operated well with the exception of the gas cap, which was the wrong type for my bike. It was a satisfactory eBay experience. I’m not always satisfied with eBay purchases, but I consider the website for unique used parts and sales offering a substantial savings over other sources. Any service that promotes the reuse of resources is making a positive impact.

Nuance alert: There is a grace inherent in having ample time for repairs. I was fortunate to discover weak and broken parts in my process of rehabilitation rather than later on my trip. Working on the bike over many months, I was able to study the bike, test the components, contemplate repairs and study the bike more. Testing the operation of the bike at various intervals after repairs, I used the clutch lever and ignition switch (until eventually they failed). Even in a static state (not running), turning the key and throttle with actions simulating a ride gave me a feel of cable and linkage motions. Studying the owner’s manual combined with physical manipulation of components described therein provided a deeper understanding of the motorcycle’s condition and operation.

9: Signal of Invention

The damage of aging and abuse on parts has been previously discussed. Replacing broken parts with identical, serviceable parts is the obvious solution. However, in the rehabilitation process there are opportunities to be innovative and creative with repairs. A custom assembly can be implemented to fix limitations of OEM parts or simply give the bike a more unique, personalized style. Creative modifications can employ any materials or other parts to function as a suitable replacement. Utilizing scrap materials saves money.

The original signal lights on my motorcycle were badly worn due to age. The lamp assemblies mount to the frame with pleated, flexible rubber arms. The rubber was severely degraded by age and environmental conditions (UV light and heat from the sun is an enemy to many materials and coatings). The original rear signal lamp is shown at right. Notice the cracking along the rubber arm. Some of the dry and brittle rubber is missing. A front lamp was in even worse condition, with the arm completely broken and dangling from the wire harness.

Since the beginning of my restoration of the motorcycle, cost-effectiveness has been one of my primary goals. The bike is not particularly special. From these posts, I expect readers will realize that it is not pristine, mechanically or otherwise. Returning it to legal useability was a path to be traveled, a peak to be conquered. When I considered that a proper restoration would require replacing all four of the signal lamps, I couldn’t justify spending over $120 ($30+ for each aftermarket replacement lamp). OEM replacement lamps were even more expensive. I decided to repair them.

The decision to repair the signal lamps was facilitated by their design. The hard plastic signal lamp lens and enclosure units could be separated from the rubber mounting arms. The hard plastic resisted the aging and weathering that had damaged the rubber arms. The lamp units (lens, enclosure and bulb socket with wiring) were the starting point of the repair. I needed to determine the best way to replace the rubber arms.

My workshop is a collection of tools and materials collected over many years. Broken appliances, toys and other machines contribute to this bounty. A landscape of wood, plastic, metal, nuts, bolts, connectors, straps, spools, adhesives, supports and other purchased or received or extracted things combine with experience and imagination to become a physical object, a solution to an environmental need. The need to hold the lamp units firmly on the motorcycle frame was solved by shaping and combining a subset of these materials. Among other things, the solution incorporated aluminum square stock cut from a piece of household TV antenna (saved from an analog antenna which was replaced with a much smaller, more-effective digital one). An important step was to seal the unit with silicone, which provides weather resistance as well as keeping the square stock in position.


Nuance alert: At one point, I had mounted the lamps and everything seemed to be finished until I tested a turn signal, the bulb flashed and the fuse protecting the circuit failed. I was confounded that the marker lights (always illuminated along with the headlamp) did not cause a failure. After a few attempts at reconfiguring wires and consuming more fuses, I considered what was different between my solution and the original lamps. In addition to flexibility, the original rubber arms insulated the steel bulb holder from the motorcycle frame. My new mount incorporated a bolt that physically and electrically connected the bulb holder to the frame. This ground path was causing a short in the turn signal circuit. Squares I cut from a mouse pad as weather seals also insulated the aluminum square stock. I fashioned insulators for the mounting holes from drywall anchor bases, a bonus being that the lip of the insert insulated the mounting washer and nut from the frame. With the lamp units electrically insulated from the motorcycle frame, the turn signals blinked continuously.

Mounted Signal Lamp

10: Shock Therapy (Going with the Flow)

As Newton postulated, any action is balanced by an equal and opposite reaction. When a motorcycle is slowed using the front brake, the momentum (moving energy) of the bike is transferred to the front wheel. The front suspension is compressed by this action. The front fork on my bike is oil-filled, designed to dampen this compression. Gentle compression is a desirable, controlled motion instead of a more violent transfer of energy that would be absorbed by other movable parts on the bike (including the rider). Within the shock absorber, oil flows between chambers to achieve a ‘fluid’ feel. Metal springs are incorporated to add resistance against compression and reset the shock absorber to its resting state.

Gaskets and seals are required anywhere gaps and channels exist between the interior of an assembly (where a fluid is contained) and the exterior (where the action of the assembly is utilized). Gaskets are barriers between static parts. Seals of rubber or other flexible material are used to manage fluid around interfaces that twist, rotate, slide, etc. Seals provide a fluid-tight seal, but they are vulnerable to wear from the constant contact required to maintain the barrier. A worn seal will reveal itself as a fluid leak.

Initially, the front shock absorbers of my motorcycle did not leak oil. The fluid, dampening action was diminished due to a low oil level. The dampening action returned when they were filled, but then they began to leak. When the shock absorbers were compressed, worn seals allowed the oil to squeeze out as it flowed between the internal chambers.

There are many forks along the path to rehabilitation. Decisions at every point vary between making the bike ‘as good as new’ or simply functional. New parts add integrity and freshness. Rebuilding parts by adding new subsystems, seals, etc. is almost as good as replacing them. Sometimes, however, resigning performance to the ease of doing nothing is ‘good enough’. While the front shock absorbers on my bike could have been improved by fixing their seals and maintaining the recommended oil level, I decided to do nothing and accommodate their deficiencies. I adjusted my riding style to slow down with a combination of downshifting, rear braking and a greater appreciation of forward momentum. Oil eventually stopped dripping onto the front wheel and has not been replaced.

11: Heading Forward

A helmet is an extension of a bike. It is a windshield and safety housing. Choosing the correct helmet requires some of the same decisions as outfitting the bike. The fit and durability of the helmet are important characteristics. My primary goal was comfort. The style also mattered: I didn’t want to ride around with flames or skull-and-crossbones decorations adorning my head.

I wanted to try the helmet before I bought it, so I only considered local sources. I decided to buy a used helmet to save money, since I was only planning on using it for a short time. Motorcycle helmets are universal, but not ubiquitous. Rollerblade and bicycle helmets are readily available at second-hand merchandise stores, but motorcycle helmets are not. I found local sources on Patience and persistence are the secrets to successful shopping on this site. I checked for new listings regularly.

A low-priced HJC helmet in my size was listed. In the listing picture, it appeared to have a damaged shield. I was unfamiliar with the brand, so I visited the HJC website. Convinced that the brand was reputable, my next step was to find out if a replacement shield was available. I discovered the CL-10 is an older model helmet. No online seller listed the model for a replacement shield, but customer feedback on indicated the shield for the CL-11 was identical. Visiting the seller, I checked the fit of the helmet. Knowing the shield could be replaced (for $18 + $7 shipping), I negotiated to buy the helmet for $40. It was an easy negotiation as the helmet was well-used, but it was relatively clean and its integrity was intact.

The CL-11 shield was an exact match. The helmet has some scratches and wear, but the new shield has given it a second life. I repaired a worn lining with the elastic of a sock. I replaced a missing pad at the top of the helmet with a small piece of fabric-covered polypropylene padding (a scrap saved from some packaging). For both repairs I used contact cement to glue the fabric. It created a strong, flexible bond that eliminated the need for stitching. I have a greater appreciation for the HJC brand, considering the comfort of the helmet. An attribute I found particularly well-designed is the allowed space for breathing in front of the mouth and chin, also an intuitive place to handle the helmet.

12: Power Point

There is a vista point during every journey, a point where you can relax and enjoy the view, if only for a moment. During the moment, you have the clarity to assess where you’ve been, where you’ve yet to go. The view is expansive, evoking a calm feeling that it was worth making the steps that brought you to that point. At the point I was finishing necessary repairs, I started thinking of the physical journey, the tour I would be taking.

While any part of a project can be fun, the creative, auxiliary accoutrements depend upon enjoyment as a prerequisite. As I wrote in my previous post, a bike’s electrical system is the center of its civility. Having replaced the battery, my thoughts were liberated as to how I could use these available electrons, a life force that would be continuously rejuvenated as I rode. I’ve always enjoyed 12-volt accessories for their portability and possibility. The cigarette-lighter plug is so crude, yet it is a symbol of independence. I decided to make playful use of the storage box on the motorcycle by installing a cigarette-lighter jack.

The lighter jack I installed was saved from the dashboard of my brother-in-law’s Volvo station wagon before it was recycled. I efficiently housed the jack in a small section of aluminum conduit (an impulse buy at Weirdstuff Warehouse, an eclectic second-hand and surplus parts and electronics store in Sunnyvale, CA). I was amazed at the fit. The experience was one of others I’ve had where serendipity trumped foresight in a combination of physical objects. The wiring of the jack was simple – I connected the 14-guage red and green wires directly to the battery using crimp-style loop terminals fastened by the terminal bolts. Inside the conduit I applied insulating tape to prevent the always-live electrical contacts from short-circuiting.

Possibilities of the power source stretched out before me. I purchased a $10 2.1A USB power converter (see photo above) to charge my Motorola phone. I also have a small 75W power inverter that will allow me to use the 110-volt charger for my Norelco electric razor. The bike is a power station for the open road.

13: Flourish to Finish

Suzuki GS700ESThe motorcycle is an ES model, which was originally equipped with a cowling. The cowling had been repainted blue (along with other parts of the bike) and the windshield was opaque, fogged from sun damage. It wasn’t attractive. I expressed this to my son and he removed the cowling. I liked the simpler look of the bike without it.

The cowling covered a tubular structure on which it was mounted. Retaining the structure was necessary, since it was also the mount for the headlamp and front signal lamps. Toward the end of the bike’s rehabilitation, with the plan for Tour 13 becoming a reality, I decided that the structure should to be covered to make the motorcycle look finished. I was committed to replacing the cowling as it had been discarded months before.

I created a cardboard shape template that covered the mounting structure. I found that sheet metal I’d saved from a water heater offered an appropriate rigidity for the motorcycle components. I considered that cut sheet metal would be sharp and a rolled edge would be necessary. I cut the sheet metal shapes larger than the finished sizes to cut and bend tabs of metal in short segments around the outlines of the final shapes. I attempted and then abandoned this idea. Smooth curves could not be achieved by bending the metal along the outlines in segments. I discovered that filing the edge of the metal made it sufficiently dull and safe, so I cut the shapes to the actual sizes. The sheet metal was bowed since it was once a cylindrical appliance. This yielded more shapely covers. The headlamp was covered with a piece of aluminum salvaged from a baking tray for weather protection and aesthetic purposes.

The covers were canvases to be decorated. I spray-painted them simply with a clear, white area to accommodate the Tour 13 logo I designed. I had two logos laser-printed on a sheet of label material at FedEx/Kinko’s and then laminated the face of the sheet. I carefully cut-out the printed shapes and applied them to the covers. The bike was now complete.

DMVNY: To Protest and Be Served

Thanks to my brother Joe. I sent him the California title when I had the idea of shipping the bike to NY for him to register and insure it. I’d filled-out the transfer information on the title with my name and CA address. Since I didn’t complete the California registration process, the title listed Ahmad Z. (not me) as the owner.

Joe insured the bike in preparation for its delivery. When I arrived in NY, he informed me that he hadn’t completed the registration process. My flight arrived in the morning, so we visited the DMV in Auburn on the way home. We anticipated there might be an issue with the title transfer, since my name was only written on the CA document and we had no statement from Ahmad transferring ownership to Joe. At the DMV, we handed the clerk a stack of forms and documents, explaining that the bike was given to me and I was giving it to Joe. The clerk kindly informed us that a different form was required along with a written, signed statement that I was giving the bike to my brother. She did not raise alarm or concern. Excited, we left her window to complete the documents at a counter in the office. With the additional documents completed, we returned to the waiting line a short time later. When it was our turn, the clerk we had previously spoken to was not available.

The second time was not a charm. The clerk, less confident in the paperwork provided for the transaction, consulted with a supervisor for guidance and judgement. Authoritatively, she informed us that the California title needed to be issued in my name for me to give the motorcycle away. I was unclear on CA titling requirements, but I assumed that transfer of title happened only when the vehicle was registered by the new owner, an expense I was trying to avoid. Besides, there would be no way I could expect an official document to be issued and arrive from the CA DMV during my short stay in NY, regardless of whether I paid for it or not.

Crestfallen, I left with my brother to consider our options (we didn’t feel that going back to the first clerk would be a good idea in light of the second clerk’s consultation with the supervisor). We all have expectations based on previous experiences. In this case, the Auburn DMV lived up to my brother’s expectation that registering the bike would be difficult there. Joe suggested that we would have a different experience in a different office – in Ithaca.

Joe was right. With the same paperwork, we approached the gray-haired clerk. She was affable, but again unsure of the proper procedure. Fortunately, the Ithaca supervisor interpreted the prerequisites for our request differently than the supervisor in Auburn. That I was present with my California driver’s license allowed them to notarize the transfer statement I’d written. The gray area of ownership was not an issue. After paying an $80 registration fee, Joe was promised to receive the NY title within three months and we left with a license plate and current registration sticker.

Gratuitous DMV Moral: If at first you don’t succeed, try a different office. Our government is by the people, for the people. People make a difference.

Rolling with It

I’m still awaiting delivery of my bike. It’s a week beyond the target delivery date I specified in my auction. I’ve contacted the shipper who has promised the bike by end-of-week, if not earlier. I’ve had to adjust my expectations and the departure date for the tour.

The picture above is a stretch of rural road near my childhood home in NY. This countryside is the delivery destination for my motorcycle. It’s a long way from Palo Alto, CA where the bike started its trip. I consider Chris, the shipper transporting my motorcycle. He is a businessman carrying my bike and others to destinations across the U.S.

I’ve driven across the country in a car twice. Disappointed about the delayed arrival of my bike, I considered my experience as a traveler and the sobering reality: space that we can easily comprehend intellectually and traverse electronically is far more foreboding physically. At right is the route map calculated by for my shipment. The distance of this direct route is estimated at 2813 miles. Chris informed me he would be traveling a west to east route past his home in Texas (to drop-off his family who traveled with him to San Francisco). This adds even more miles to his route. He enlists a pickup truck pulling a cargo trailer to transport his freight. I imagine the sheer strength and will required to endure the trip, a continuous attention to the momentum of tons of metal. I appreciate the effort.

I’ll be riding my motorcycle soon. I’m committed to traveling hundreds of miles on it to visit friends I haven’t seen for years. I will gain an even greater appreciation for the endurance of traveling. The physical ride will be a continuation of my journey thus far. I’m grateful for the warm receptions and invitations I’ve received by phone and e-mail. If I can reach you physically on this tour, I’ll see you soon. For those I’ve reached with my words, thanks for reading.

About Peter

As a consulting professional in the Internet industry, I have helped small- and medium-sized businesses and community organizations effectively design and deploy web services and information. Years of hands-on design and project management experience for this market have inspired me to post my ideas and insights on a public forum --
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One Response to Tour 13 – The Art of Brand and Motorcycle Maintenance (Part 2)

  1. Jeff Frick says:

    Hi Peter,
    I’ve driven cross country more times than I can count. The key is the blue highways. Get off the Interstate. I think you should consider taking the bike home this route.
    Love, LOVE, LOVE!!! the cross country road trip. Worst part is the first hour, and the last hour, but the time in between is golden.
    Safe Travels,

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