Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Transition: Custom Rear Rack to Factory Rear Rack

I while back I mentioned that I had managed to win (on that giant on-line auction site) an original equipment (Honda) rear rack from an '89 NX125. I contacted the seller to ask if he happened to have the rare (and expensive), but still available, turn signal supports. He did not. The factory rack bolts through the same hole, in the rear of the frame, that the turn signals use. So, I needed to figure out how to use the existing turn signals or acquire (and modify) some other turn signals. I ended up finding a set of Suzuki DRZ400 front turn signals that did not require any modification. This allows me to use the NX's rear turn signals on my Transalp.

So, I got started by removing the custom rear rack:

  1. remove the side panels
  2. remove the seat
  3. remove the turn signals
  4. remove the custom rack (most likely permanently)

The first thing that needed modification were the rubber grommets from the rear fender. The turn signals go through these grommets. However, they're too thick to fit inside the factory rack. So, I trimmed them down.

The left side has been trimmed. The right side is the original thickness. So, the grommet is about 3/4 of the total thickness that is used to be. The groove in the middle is where the fender rests when the grommet is installed (the grommet fits in a hole in the rear fender).

These are the two steel spacers that will fit inside the grommet (shown above). They will mimic the steel shaft that protrudes from the original turn signals. They needed to have about 1/8" (.125") removed from their length to properly fit.

This the right side grommet installed in the rear fender with the steel spacer in place. The left side looks exactly the same way (except the picture I took was blurry).

Here the factory rack is in place. Through the mounting hole in the rack you can see the steel spacer. I had to use two thin bladed putty knives to get the rack to slide over the rubber grommets. The putty knives help compress the grommets instead of having the rack push them down (which will eventually cause them to pop out of the rear fender).

Here the rack is in place with the DRZ400 turn signals in place. If you look closely at the horizontal rack surface, you can clearly see that it's been assembled improperly. The right side is higher than the left. I fully expect that the Honda worker responsible for this to have committed hara kiri (seppuku). Kidding. I first thought the rack was twisted (from a fall or something). But no, every bolt hole lined up without force. And, closer inspection revealed the error in assembly (welding). My partially disassembled Transalp can be seen in the background. It's now running and will be re-assembled shortly.

Here's a close up of the right rear turn signal. You can see that the DRZ400 turn signals come with a nice bracket that makes mounting easy. I will swap that Allen head cap screw for a stainless steel version when the rack is sent out for powder coating (this winter). I'll use the lower hole, in the mounting bracket, as a wiring harness guide.

Here's the left side. Just above the tool kit holder you can see that the rack support nicely clears the fender. I can revert to the factory bolts to hold the seat and rack (eliminating the longer Allen head caps screws and spacers made from steel tube).

A view of the left turn signal from above. Again, it's almost as if the DRZ400 turn signal mounting bracket was meant for this application. There is plenty of clearance for the wiring to exit the base and the bracket is tight to the rack. Nice and neat.

Here's the right turn signal from above. With the bracket in this position, there's plenty of muffler clearance and no need to fret about (possibly) melted plastic.

I soldered the wires so that I don't have to worry about mechanical connectors failing.

The joints were sealed with shrink tube. I also used some Honda wiring harness sleeve to protect the wires from dirt/debris/water/etc. There are not three wires there, the "middle" one is a refection in the muffler.

Here the rack is completely installed with the wiring in place.

Another angle of the installed rack. To complete the process, I needed to put the seat back on and install the side panels.

Here's the Honda rack plate that I was using on my custom rack. I used a couple of pieces of 1/2" square tube to bolt the plate to the rack. If you look closely, above the leading edge of the tail light, you'll see that the plate has two clips that snap over the horizontal rack tubing. In conjunction with the forward square tube, the plate won't be able to slide off of the rack. Later I decided to add a spacer between the plate and the square tubing. The spacers are 1/2" diameter nylon with a 1/4" hole. I had to cut them down from 0.5" in length to 0.4". The thickness of the horizontal rack tubing is 0.4". Now the plate doesn't bend/flex under the pressure from the attaching bolts.

Another view of the plate on the rack. It's a little easier to see how the forward square tube is captured in the rack support. This will prevent the plate from sliding off of the rack. I will most likely end up bolting the Givi base plate to the Honda plate so I can use the Givi top case (again). I also plan to have the square tubing powder coated as well.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Choke, the finer points of

Sorry for the lack of posting recently. Not much has been happening with the NX and I'm on a big push to get the TransAlp re-assembled before it gets too late in the riding season. With any luck, I plan to get the factory rear rack on the NX in the next few weekends, time permitting.

I have recently noticed that the NX doesn't require as much carburetor enrichment as I previously thought. First, let's revisit my old Reflex (TLR200) which was exceptionally cold-blooded. Not only did it require choke, to start, but took forever to warm up. In retrospect, it need some attention but I never figured that out. The NX doesn't seem to require that much choke, to start, nor does it require it for very long. I only apply about 50% choke to start the engine. It will immediately idle at about 1000 rpm. That's a little low so I usually assist, with throttle application, so that the rpm reaches ~1700. It will only take about half a minute and I'll hear the engine note increase and the rpm will also increase to about 2000 rpm. At this point, I'll reduce the choke to about 30% and repeat the procedure. Once I reduce the choke again, the NX is ready to go. By the time I reach the main road (about three blocks distance, inside my housing development), I can reduce the choke once again (so that it's now at about 10%). When I accelerate onto the main road, engine response is pretty crisp. Previously, I would encounter some bog (rich) which would take about 1/2 mile to clear out after reducing the choke by quite a bit. Since traffic moves briskly on this road, I need to have the NX running properly (or risk being "consumed" by rush-hour traffic). By the time I'm two miles from home, I can fully remove any choke and the engine will be idling @ 1340 rpm (+/- 50 rpm).

Of course this is all predicated on ambient temperature. In the morning, temperatures are now about 60º F. Daytime highs are at about 80º F. I have a heated garage so the NX's engine should never be colder than 55º F, in the morning. Afternoons will be a different story as we get into Autumn, especially late Autumn. Since the power-plant is relatively small, I'll be curious as to how quickly it warms when temps are in the 30º-40º F range. Naturally, more choke will be needed but for how much and how long will be the key. I'd prefer to avoid rich conditions (fouled spark plugs) so that I don't have to encounter tailgaters.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Basic Maintenance - Cleaning & Lubricating the Chain

The NX is the first bike I've owned that does not have an o-ring (or x-ring) chain. So, the chain is a little more susceptible to becoming less efficient due to debris. If the weather remains dry, the chain will remain in good condition for several weeks. However, if I happen to ride through the rain, it quickly loses its efficiency.

Tools used:

  • 3/8" drive ratchet
  • 3/8" drive 12mm shallow socket
  • 1/4" drive ratchet
  • 1/4" drive 8mm deep socket
  • 1/4" drive 10mm deep socket
  • 1/4" drive 3" extension
  • 1/4" drive 6" extension
  • Flat head screw driver
  • shallow (oil) drain pan
  • degreaser (Simple Green - I have also used turpentine)
  • source of compressed air
  • rags or paper towel

Here's the starting point. I prefer to remove the chain from the NX to lubricate it. It keeps the lube from running all over the swing arm (and making a big mess). Since the chain requires a cleaning, it's coming off of the NX for sure. Strangely, Honda mounted the left passenger footpeg directly in front of one of the fasteners for the chain guard.
So, use the 3/8" ratchet and 12mm socket to remove the footpeg entirely (2 bolts). Remove the chain guard by removing the three 10mm collared bolts with the 1/4" ratchet and the 10mm deep socket. Two of the mounting tabs can be seen on the swing arm (one, just above and to the left of the "P" and the other just above the "K"). The third tab is opposite side of the chain and is accessed from the other side of the NX. I use both 1/4" extensions (3" & 6") to reach across the gap. I tried using a 10mm box end wrench once but was limited by the tight quarters. I found it easier to use a ratchet and socket.

While it is not necessary to remove the front sprocket guard to remove the chain, you will need to remove it to put the chain back on. So, it may as well come off now. This provides access so that you can clean the guard as well as the sprocket (and areas around the sprocket). Also, check the sprocket for wear (fish-hooked teeth). A 1/4" ratchet and 8mm deep socket are used to remove the sprocket guard.

Locate the master link. The master link on the NX used to be marked with a dab of white paint. It has since worn off. Some owners use a dab of fingernail polish to make its location easier to find. It may be a little hard to see but the master link is centered in the picture. Counting the pins, from the top of the image, the master link spans pins #4 & #5. This is not quite the position I like to have the master link in. I rotate the rear wheel (counter-clockwise, in this case) so that the master link is in about the 1 o'clock position. I do this so that when I re-install the chain, the chain will stay on the rear gear without me having to hold it there. I can then install the master link without worrying about holding the chain in place (if you have someone helping you, this is a moot point). Use the flat bladed screwdriver to remove the master link clip. I hold the edge of the blade against the open end of the clip (the open end is pointing downward in the picture). Use the palm of your other hand to hit the end of the screwdriver handle. This should provide enough force to pop the clip off. I choose to work on a (semi) clean piece of cardboard. This ensures that small parts (like the clip) don't disappear and cardboard tends to be easier on the knees (than concrete).

Here's the NX with the chain removed. Clean the rear gear and inspect for wear (again, looking for fish hook shaped teeth). I also clean the swing arm and the 'shark fin' (the white plastic piece below the swing arm). They tend to gather a haze of chain lube which attracts dirt.

Here's the chain soaking in a shallow pan of Simple Green. I use an old toothbrush to remove grime from the side plates. Although, using a "panning for gold" motion removes a lot of the accumulated debris. Don't forget to clean the master link, master link side plate and clip.

Here's the chain after a rinse in water. I was very surprised at how much debris actually washes off. It took several rinses (again using that "panning for gold" motion) before the water, drained from the pan, was clear. The key now is to dry the chain before it can start to surface rust. Allowing it to air dry would be counterproductive. At that point oxidation has begun to occur.

I chose to use my step ladder to hang the chain. Using this method allows me to capture anything that happens to drip off of the chain (water or lube). I have a small air compressor and use it to rapidly dry the chain. It takes several passes before there is no more moisture (in mist form) coming from the chain. At this point, there is still some moisture trapped in the rollers (not good). So, I give the chain a light misting of WD-40. WD-40 (like the name implies, is water dispersing) drives the moisture out from the rollers. I allow a few minutes for the dissipation to occur. Then, I apply the Liquid Wrench chain lube in the same manner. I allow the lube to dry for about an hour. The chain will still look shiny but will be (mostly) dry to the touch. Now, when you install the chain, your hands will stay mostly clean and there won't be any lube running down the swing arm. Reassemble in the opposite order of dis-assembly. When installing the clip on the master link, be sure the closed end of the clip faces in the direction of travel. This way the clip won't be accidentally knocked free if you happen to hit an object while riding. Inventory your tools and make sure you haven't forgotten to re-install any parts. Now is a good time to check the chain tension adjustment.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Finally got wet

I've owned the NX for just about seven months now. Yesterday was the first time I actually rode it in the rain. That's not bad considering the number of miles I've put on it (~2000) and the number of business days that I've ridden it to work (since mid-March).

The Bike
I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to handle adverse conditions. It didn't feel much different than riding in the dry. I suppose that has something to do with the tires (Shinko 705). They handled the wet pavement with aplomb. I know to keep an eye out for pavement markings as the rain has a tendency to make them very slick. However, I never felt the bike slip or slide while riding over them. I didn't have any other issues other than my rain gloves slipping on the levers a little. I moved my hands inward, on the grips, to compensate for that. I noticed that I need to re-lube the chain, there's some surface rust on it this morning.

My Gear
Naturally, I had just washed the Olympia Bushwacker over the weekend. I chose to use the NikWax Tech Wash to clean the jacket and prep it for waterproofing. It did a decent job of restoring the color to the Hi-Viz jacket as well as removing most of the dirt. I plan to eventually use the TX.Direct Wash In waterproofing. I chose not to use it just yet because one bottle is supposed to be good for up to six garments. I only have two; my jacket and over-pants. Since the directions indicate one bottle per washer load, I figured I would use it once Fall arrived and the weather tends to be less dry. At that time, I'll wash the jacket, its waterproof liner and my FirstGear over-pants. The only issue I noticed was that my crotch was a little damp when I arrived at home. Unfortunately, that's common condition with waterproof pants. I don't know if the stitching has become loose with use or if the seams need to be sealed or if the waterproofing need to be "refreshed" with the TX.Direct. However, that was the only issue I noted and it rained steadily during my ride home. My helmet, an Arai XD3, is also very good at keeping my head dry. Water does not drip down the inside of the visor nor do the vents leak. I also put my Aerostitch Rain Boot Covers to use for the first time. They are pretty nice and very similar to Totes brand of overshoes. I like them because they come up to the mid-calf. This allows me to tuck my pants into them. With the over-pants, my feet and lower legs are protected from rain and spray. I read some reviews that said they were easily torn. I'm guessing this was due to a tight fit or operator impatience. So, I ordered one size larger than I normally would have. They were a little loose but not sloppy. They worked very well and I would recommend them. My Joe Rocket gloves, a birthday gift from a few years back, kept my fingers dry and warm. This was the first time I could recall feeling rain drops hitting the exterior of the gloves. No problems. The Seal Line messenger bag also did its job and kept everything dry. I opted to put my laptop in the messenger bag instead of in the Outdoor Research dry sack strapped to the rear rack. It made for a bulkier load but the bag isn't subjected to the spray, off the rear wheel, since it sits on the rear portion of the seat.

For some reason, inclement weather seems to bring out the worst in commuters. Most are either afraid of the conditions or drive like idiots. I can't figure out if they're truly unsure of their abilities or if they've lost their collective minds. However, yesterday, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. No one was in a big rush or tailgating or weaving in and out of traffic. Just a nice calm ride in less than optimal conditions. Kinda nice (if not for the rain).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Basic Maintenance - Oil Change

Yes, this is pretty simple stuff but the NX is a little particular compared to some of the other bikes I own (or have owned).

Tools: 1/4" drive ratchet, 12mm & 10mm sockets, 1/2" drive ratchet, 15/16" (or 24mm) socket, oil drain pan, funnel and paper towel or rags.

As you can see, it's very helpful to remove the engine pan (or skid plate or engine guard) and the shift lever to gain access to the oil drain plug (and oil strainer). The drain plug is located just behind the tip of the shift lever.

Use the 1/4" ratchet with 12mm and 10mm sockets to remove the engine pan. The 12mm bolt is at the leading edge of the pan, where it meets the frame. The 10mm bolts (2) are at the trailing edge of the pan. At some point you may consider replacing the hex bolts with Allen bolts. Allen bolts have a tendency to maintain their internal hex shape even if they come in contact with a rock or a curb. If a hex bolt's head is rounded off, it may take a vice-grip to remove it.

Use the 1/4" ratchet and 10mm socket to remove the pinch bolt from the shift lever. The bolt has to be completely removed from the lever before the lever can slide off the splined shaft. Make note of the location of the tip of the shift lever in relation to a fixed point on the engine. You'll need to put the lever back in the proper location so that you can easily shift gears. The splined shaft allows the lever to be replaced in different orientations.

Here, the pan has been removed and the shift lever as well. There's now plenty of access to the drain plug. Remove the drain plug after placing the drain pan under the engine. Be careful when unscrewing the plug. There's a spring loaded strainer (screen) behind the plug. Chances are that the oil will push the screen out and into the drain pan. You really don't want that to happen because you'll have to go "fishing" for the screen in the old oil. If you're careful, you can use the spring to remove the screen (which is about the size and shape of a thimble). Place the plug, spring and screen on a rag or piece of paper towel. Allow the oil to drain completely (this may take several minutes before it stops dripping). I even raised the kickstand to see if tilting the bike further to the left would speed the process. It did, kind of.

Here's the completed job before re-assembly. Old socks make nice rags. I use Honda GN4 10w-40 oil because I got about 12 quarts of it with the bike. I may switch to synthetic once I've exhausted the supply. Right now, I change the oil every one thousand (1000) miles. That may be excessive but the sump is only one quart and the motor revs pretty high (50 mph = ~6K rpm). The transmission also seems to shift better with fresh oil. Always use an oil that's rated for a wet clutch. Automotive oils contain additives which can cause the clutch to work improperly (that is, slip).

Inspect the screen for debris. If there are metal chips you may have more serious issues to address. Be sure the screen is clear. Replace the screen, spring and plug as an assembly. It can be a little difficult to try to push (against the spring) and get the threads started. Be patient and use an extension (3") with the socket, if necessary. Tighten the plug so that it's good and snug but not overly tight. You don't want to strip those threads. I have to use an offset funnel to fill the sump because the fill hole is very close to the frame. Replace the shift lever and engine pan. Inventory your tools to ensure you didn't forget something. Properly dispose of your drain oil (most auto parts stores recycle used oil - my local Auto Zone still does). Start the engine to be sure everything is OK. Other maintenance things to consider while changing the oil: clean the air filter, clean & lubricate the chain, check tire pressures and/or lubricate frame pivots.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Local Business versus the Web

I'm going off on a tangent for a moment. I'm doing this because there is no substitute for good customer service. If you've been reading along though all of the posts, you'll notice that I do try to link products, that I have used, that I feel are worthy of consideration. Mostly this is due to a product meeting certain standards (mine). However, there are times when an entire company is deserving of recognition. In this case, it's Motion Pro. I know them for their throttle and clutch cables but they sell a litany of items including batteries, tools and throttle kits. However, you can have the most awesome products but without customer service to back those products up, you may as well not even be in business. Case in point; Corbin Seats. Search thru any motorcycle forum site and you'll find the general consensus is that Corbin makes an awesome product (I had one on my old Suzuki DR350SE - loved it). But, their customer service is suspect (and I think that's being kind based on what I've read). This is enough to turn off a lot of folks and they immediately look elsewhere. Full disclosure; I bought the seat 'used' off of a Suzuki DR350 forum site. It had never been installed so it was technically new. I did not pay retail price nor did I ever deal directly with Corbin's customer service department. Everything I'm relaying to you second-hand, at best.

In the age of the internet, most things are available locally as well as through the web. Most of us prefer the convenience of shopping through our computers. But, there's a price that comes with that convenience; lack of local support/retailers. If you're fortunate enough to be able to plan well in advance, you can get what you need from the 'Net. But, if you need something immediately or if you need assistance, a local retailer is your only source. With the competition from the 'Net, a lot of local retailers are having a tough go of things. The current state of the economy and the online sales tax issue are contributing to the demise of the local business owner. That said, you would think that customer service would play a large role any time a customer stepped into a retail shop.

In an effort to support a local business (my wife owns her own business which explains my preference), I checked the Motion Pro web site to determine my local dealer (they will remain nameless). They happen to be on my commute so I stopped in on my ride home one evening. I needed to buy some fuel line for the TransAlp. Yeah, I can get fuel line at any local hardware store. However, the TA already has Motion Pro line on it and also has a Motion Pro in-line quick disconnect. I figured that fuel line is a pretty basic maintenance item and would be stocked. Nope. How about an o-ring for that quick disconnect? Nope. Thinking that maybe this would be an easy get from the Motion Pro distributor, I asked how long it would take for them (the dealer) to get some fuel line in stock? The response; "Well, you'll have to place a full order." What's a 'full' order? "25 feet." I only needed about 2 feet. Blank stare. Let's try the o-ring. "Nope, we don't carry those." At this point I was sorry I even stopped in the first place. I thanked them for their time and left. The following business day I placed an order for 3 feet of 5/16" fuel line, in gray, from the Motion Pro web site. I tried to figure out if I could get a replacement o-ring for the quick disconnect but did not find anything. So, in the "notes" section of the order form, I inquired if one was available. I all honesty I was expecting them to provide a size and I'd get one at a local hardware store. I was thoroughly surprised to receive an email response that had a link to the part I needed. I asked if it was too late to add one to my order (Motion Pro states that they do their best to ship all orders on the day they were placed). The response was that the orders were filled in another location but that Motion Pro would be happy to send me one or two as a customer service gesture. Wow. I wasn't asking for a freebie, I wasn't hoping for a freebie but I got one anyway.
We're talkin' an o-ring here, what's the big deal?

It's not the part or the value of the part, it's the gesture and the extra effort that let's me know that this is a company worthy of my hard earned cash. I will be a repeat customer. Customer Service is all about the details.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Slow July

I haven't posted in a while because I haven't had much to say (no offense). The past month (July) certainly seemed to be either very hot or very humid or both. After starting out hot and dry, the weather pattern quickly changed to hot and humid (and wet). The lawn went from being slightly tan (dormant) to being pretty green (again).

I had an opportunity to ride, one morning, in the wet. It was not raining but it had been earlier in the morning. In an effort not to temp fate, I opted to put the laptop in the waterproof sack and I wore the liner in the Bushwacker. It was definitely a sticky ride to work. Granted, it was still very humid and the temperatures were in the upper 70s. So, I wasn't surprised to feel like I was in a sauna. However, while at speed, it wasn't too bad. Waiting at traffic signals caused the most discomfort. Naturally, it did not rain on me during the ride to the office. So, I still have not ridden in the actual rain while in the Bushwacker. Maybe some day...

The tires continue ti impress me. Although, I recently read a thread on Adventure Rider that indicated some are not all that happy with them. I have yet to experience any of the issues that were noted. They are smooth, hold a line in a corner and track on a straight line. The inmate that started that thread does ride a bike (Triumph Tiger) that's much different than the NX. Others chime in and it seems most ride something similar; Suzuki V-Strom (650cc or 1000cc version, I'm not sure). Perhaps these tires do well on lighter weight bikes. At 240 lbs, the NX is obviously much different than those previously mentioned.

The rear rack project is at a stand still while I'm doing a lot of work on the TransAlp. I discovered a leaking valve cover gasket, on the rear cylinder, during my ride home from purchasing the bike. There is some major dis-assembly involved and while you have all of those parts off, you may as well do some maintenance while you're at it. So far, the TA has new valve cover gaskets, new spark plugs and adjusted valves. The carburetors have been cleaned and I have bumped up the pilot jet sizes from 38 to 40 (not a big jump but enough to resolve some know idle issues). I have some new fuel line on order which will be the key to re-assembling everything. I also need to change the thermostat. After that, I can put everything back together and , hopefully, the TA will be good-to-go for years to come.