Saturday, August 1, 2009

DIY Tune-Up Project

Dave -

Do you prefer doing a process or a project? The difference is that a "process" doesn't have an end, while a "project" has a definite start and finish. Cleaning the house is a process; yes, you may think that the house is clean, but the fact is, within minutes of having everything spic and span, someone (usually me) is already creating a mess. Our jobs are also processes. While it may be Friday, you are not finished with work, but simply taking a two day respite before returning to the salt mine. Processes - only death will end them.

A project, on the other hand, has a definite start and finish. Today I will be writing about a tune-up "project". Rather than take the old BMW K100 RT motorcycle in for a tune-up, I decided that this would be a good DIY project. The service manual clearly states that anyone with a couple of simple tools and the willingness to follow directions can tune-up a bike. Shoot! I have some tools and I have always been good at following directions. As I read the chapter on tune-ups, I jotted down things I would need: oil, spark plugs, coolant...I am feeling comfortable at this point...brake fluid, transmission oil, gear grease, fork oil...okay, I have to admit I am getting a bit out of my comfort range. By the time I finished reading the chapter, I had added gaskets, sealers, special crush washers, O-rings, a couple of special tools, and three types of filters to my list. Now I am very much over my head.

Motorcycles are high performing, powerful machines and the oil and coolant that you use in your car will not work in a bike. I spent several hours surfing the web, learning about different kinds of oil and coolant, trying to differentiate between one company's marketing hype and another one's legitimate claim. Then, armed with a list of exactly the right oil and coolant that I would need, I headed to the store. The store didn't carry exactly what I was looking for so I headed to Store #2. Store #2 carried the same stuff as the Store #1. I realized at this point that unless I planned to special order these items, I was going to have to be satisfied with what was on the shelves. I continued on to Store #3 and Store #4 before I had everything on my list. When I got home, I was pretty much sick of this project and decided to spend the remainder of my day doing something else.

Day #2: When I ventured into the garage the next morning, the bike sat there surrounded by bottles of oil, coolant, gear grease, and a sundry of other life-giving fluids and two bags of parts and pieces that I had picked up the day before. Here is a bit of information that I found interesting: modern motorcycles have all the same pieces and parts and systems that your car has.
Whoever designed this motorcyle crammed all this stuff in a very small package. Working on a motorbike is much like solving a Rubic's Cube - getting the pieces to line up is never as simple as it looks. In the case of the bike, changing something as simple as the air filter requires you to remove something call the “air box”. To remove the air box, you have to remove the gas tank from the bike. Stop! You can’t remove the gas tank until you remove the seat AND the left hand side upper and lower faring. So to change something as simple as the air filter, I had to virtually disassemble the bike. I am NOT making this up! To replace the coolant, the right hand side faring must be removed. The coup de grĂ¢ce was the requirement to take off the oil pan to remove the oil filter. The day ended with the bike torn apart, but with the oil and coolant successfully changed.

Day #3: Today I spent the day figuring out where all the little (and big) pieces of the faring, brackets, and fasteners were supposed to go. The manual was not overly helpful inasmuch as it simply stated something to the effect that reassembly is just a reversal of the disassembly process. Two things to remember in digesting this bit of information is that I took all of the crap apart yesterday and had not the foggiest idea of how I got to the point that I was at now. I started putting pieces together until I ran out of both pieces and fasteners. Actually, I did end up with a big piece of foam that certainly fits somewhere, but I will have to visit the local BMW dealer and ask a mechanic where it is supposed to go.

With the bike back together, I was ready to tackle the tasks that could be completed without reducing the bike to a million little pieces. Replacing the spark plugs, transmission fluid, the rear end oil, brake fluid, and suspension fork oil turned out to be fairly straightforward. I was making excellent progress and then Mike called to ask if I would like to help him tune-up his bike. It was like Dante’s three levels of hell…forever another level when you thought things couldn’t get worse.

Epilogue: The bike is back together and running better than ever. Mike (with very little help from me) changed the oil and coolant in his bike.
My tune-up project is finished. I must say that at times during the last couple of days I thought that my "project" was going to morph into a "process".
Looking back, I think the project worked out pretty good. I enjoyed working on the bike and working alongside Mike. I did not have a hot rod to tinker with while growing up, so I guess the motorcycle is my hot rod.

Special thanks goes to my neighbor, Richard. He is a knowledgeable mechanic who has a ton of really cool tools – many of which I had to borrow over the course of the last couple of days. Without his help and his willingness to loan his tools, the bike would still be in a hundred pieces scattered about the garage.

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