Thursday 22 March 2012

Batteries – can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without ‘em.

BatteryIn prepping my bike for the new year I went through all the basic maintenance activities – fluids, tires pressures, checking for loose nuts and bolts, etc. Then I came to the battery and I realised that beyond keeping a charger on it over the winter I had no idea if it was being properly maintained or not
The battery is an indispensible part of a modern motorcycle, and so battery failure is not an option. At one time it wasn’t that big a deal with kickstarters on all motorcycles, engine displacements in the 150 to 750 cc range, and few powered accessories requiring a fully charged battery. But just try bump-starting a modern 900-lb, 103-ci  Electra Glide!  Nope, isn’t gonna happen, so if your battery fails on the road you’re stranded.
And wishing you’d paid more attention to the health of your battery.
In my early days as a backyard mechanic one of the items in everyone’s basic tool kit was a hydrometer. This handy little device was an essential tool for measuring the specific gravity of the electrolyte in your battery. Those measurements (one per cell), combined with a fully-charged voltage reading provided a pretty good indication of the health of your battery. And checking the battery was a normal part of the maintenance routine.
But today’s batteries are so reliable we tend to view them as foolproof, essentially ignoring them until the day they don’t work (see ‘stranded’ above). So what can you do to minimize the risk of battery failure while maximizing your battery’s life, and just how much maintenance does your battery really need?
Well to answer those questions James over at Battery Stuff has offered up a few thoughts.
“Proper lead-acid battery maintenance involves periodic mechanical inspection, cleaning, and proper charging using a smart maintenance charger. Flooded (wet) batteries should have water levels checked routinely, particularly in hot weather and topped with distilled water if necessary. Terminal connections should be checked routinely, and any corrosion should be neutralized with baking soda and water, and removed. Battery post cleaners or small wire brushes can help with this process.

All motorcycle batteries, including the sealed AGM batteries, like to be kept fully charged when not actually being cycled. There is NO benefit to fully discharging lead acid batteries as part of maintenance or use. The newer microprocessor chargers allow long term maintenance with a float mode, which will not overcharge batteries. Batteries used infrequently and not on a float charger should be topped off about once a month if possible. This helps prevent sulfation build up, the number one cause of early battery failure.

When a battery is improperly charged or allowed to self discharge, as occurs during storage, sulfation builds up on the battery’s storage plates and can harden, preventing the battery from ever being fully charged and therefore able to deliver their full power. Routine charging or maintaining with a floating charger helps reduce and eliminate this process. Batteries that sit unattended for extended periods are subject to internal discharge and the degradation of capacity that sulfation introduces. There are electronic devices and battery chargers that address sulfation issues, but the best practice is proper battery management with a microprocessor controlled charger to prevent it in the first place.”
So now you (and I) know. You might also want to stop by Battery Stuff’s YouTube channel and check out some of their videos for even more battery information.

Sunday 18 March 2012

First ride, first video

We’ve enjoyed an unseasonably early spring here, and with temperatures in the mid-50s I’ve been itching to get out for that first ride. Unfortunately, our laneway is still covered in spots with quite a bit of snow, ice, and greasy mud on which I have no intention of trying to keep the HD upright. But the XL? No problem.

Since the XL is currently unlicensed and uninsured (shhh, don’t tell anyone) I’m limited in where I can ride but fortunately, right at the end of our driveway, is California Road.

California Road has nothing to do with California, and little to do with being a “real” road. 10 kilometres (6 miles) long it’s a seasonal shortcut, barely maintained by the township in summer and used as a snowmobile trail in winter. At this time of year it’s still partly snow covered with the rest of it being large puddles, potholes, and greasy mud; in other words, a perfect road for thrashing around on a dirt bike.

And so I decided to go and get muddy, a mission I accomplished admirably even though I only got about half way to the end of the road before coming across a washout that stopped any further progress. I considered trying to ride across on the logs, then considered what the summer would be like with various body parts in casts, then I turned around (insert chicken sounds here).
I also took the GoPro and used the resulting video as an opportunity to play with video editing, posting to YouTube, etc. So here’s an abbreviated 3-minute video of my ride.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

A 21st century ‘chopper’?

This blended motorcycle/helicopter was recently showcased by Wired UK (link).
Chris Malloy, the inventor and builder, is an Australian lad and he is currently looking for funding to take development from prototype through further testing and production. Pricing is expected to be in the $40K range, which makes it a pretty expensive toy, but commercially feasible where it might reduce the need for full-blown helicopters – checking transmission lines for example.
Unfortunately, even if he does get his invention into production, I expect that the various regulatory agencies and the insurance lobby will ensure it never hits the mass market. But I sure would love to get my hands on one.
For more photos and specs check out Chris’ website at

Saturday 10 March 2012

Unnecessary complexity

Life used to be so much simpler for the average backyard mechanic hack. And I’m not talking about the electronic this and automatic that on the modern motorcycle. No, I’m talking about the basic mechanic’s toolset needed to do even the most basic maintenance.
Exhibit 1: my ‘07 FXDLI.

I just had new tires installed which entailed removing the saddlebags, front and back wheels, and brake calipers. By almost any measure this is a simple task well within the technical skills of anyone with even a modest interest in wrenching.  But the job is made unnecessarily complicated by the mix of SAE and metric-dimensioned bolts, heads, and tools required.
wrenches2_291Not that long ago a decent, comprehensive toolkit would consist of a good 6-point socket set (SAE if you worked on US bikes such as Harleys or Indians, metric if European or Japanese, and British Standard Whitworth if your ride was vintage Brit iron) and a set of wrenches to match. A mechanics hammer, a few screwdrivers, and a mass of hex keys (again SAE or metric) rounded out the kit.
No more. Just to complete the relatively simple task of removing and reinstalling the front and rear wheels I encountered: SAE hex-head bolts, metric hex-head bolts, 12-point-head metric bolts, and Torx-head metric and SAE bolts. Four different sets of sockets/wrenches were needed.
There appears to be no obvious advantage to the use of one type of fastener over another, so one must question why the MOCO allows this degree of non-standardisation in its assembly processes. It certainly isn’t to make servicing their products any easier.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

This is gonna hurt!

Hey buddy, I’d suggest you get those legs back together, real tight, before you hit the ground.