Monday, August 16, 2010

Adventures in Motorcycle Ownership

A week ago last Tuesday(or...almost two weeks ago)my 2000 HD FXST Softail motorcycle got sick. After taking it to the HD dealer closest to me at the time, I waited for them to get to tearing into the bike to see what was wrong with it. Initially they said exhaust leak, shot cam chain tensioners, and probably Other Stuff.

Now, I bought the bike at that dealer, but I hadn't taken either of my motorcycles to that particular dealer in about five years due to them kinda screwing up my other bike, a 1998 HD Sportster XLH. I had taken it in for a routine checkup, and came out with a bent rear axle and other little mistakes. Some added irony: I remember one of the service guys remarking at the comparitively high mileage the bike had. Most people who buy Sportsters aren't actually wanting a Sportster; they want a bigger bike but didn't get one because of money or they see the Sportster as an "intro Harley". Which is crap, but whatever. So they generally sell off such a bike before reaching 15-20,000 miles. I think I have around 40,000 miles on my Sportster. Which is apparently a Big Deal to the average city HD rider. FML. As a result, I didn't feel safe on the bike, and let it sit in the garage, always intending to get these little things fixed, but didn't. The poor thing became my personal Entropy Project for years.

SO, back to the Softail. While it sat at the dealer, I emailed a smart friend of mine who happens to know a lot about motorcycles and happens to drink a lot of beer(it kills the slow brain cells), Fred. I told him the symptoms of the bike, and asked him if it was possible that the dealer was right about what's wrong with it. He said yes, and also offered to look at the bike himself if needed. I said I'd give the dealer a shot first, but would let Fred know if I changed my mind.

On Friday, I call the dealer and ask about my bike. They still hadn't gotten to it, but were planning to get to it that day. Riiiiiiiiiiiiight. I told them to not do anything, I'll pick the bike up Saturday morning. They apologize but agree. Fine. I tell the Dear Husband what's going on, he says he'll go to the local Uhaul to reserve a pickup truck for the bike. I email Fred asking if his offer to look at the bike is still open. I then get a call back from the dealer about an hour after the previous call to say that they "pulled strings" to get the bike looked at right away. Riiiiiiight. The preliminary work they did still says bad cam chain tensioners, bad lifters, and they'd have to drain the oil to see if pieces of the cam chain tensioners got sucked into the engine. JEEEZ.

I had made all these calls while sitting in my cubicle at work. When the dealer started to say that they could start work on my bike, I apparently got quite loud when I told them politely but firmly that they can stop looking at the bike because I WILL BE PICKING IT UP IN THE MORNING. I also mentioned that I can't drive my car for much longer because I was going insane. The reason I know I was getting loud was because after these calls happened, I had three or four coworkers stroll by over the course of the afternoon saying, So, you're going to go pick up your bike tomorrow, eh? Is it fixed? D'OH!!!!! Next time I'll go outside to be an asshole.

I hadn't heard back from Fred for the rest of the day, but I figured that even if he wasn't available, I'd take the Softail to the dealer closest to me, who I'm not particularly fond of either sometimes, but they're the only other dealer that's reasonably close by, and they had done a good job on the previous routine checkup of the Softail, which was done right before I started on the current job. Saturday morning I decide to call Fred to see if he was around. He wasn't. He was down at Sea World in San Diego. Ca-RAP. I tell him what happened with the dealer, and he muses for a few minutes and says, Drop the bike off at my place and I can get to it when I get home from San Diego Sunday afternoon. I'll tell the housesitter to expect you and I can have my neighbor leave a ramp to get the bike out of the truck. Awesome! The DH and start the Great Wanderings on a Saturday Afternoon.

We gather the pickup from Uhaul. We drive to the dealer where the Softail sits. They're expecting us. One of the service guys(who wasn't the one I'd been talking to when I brought the Softail in) comes up and apologizes. Profusely. And he keeps saying the same thing, which was meant as a compliment, but I was a little unnerved by it. He kept saying, I know who you are. I know your bike. I know you used to come in here all the time. But it was the I know who you are which stuck with me. I think his apology was actually sincere as he explained that last-minute riders headed for Sturgis clogged up the service area, as well as losing a key mechanic who has proved to not be easily replaced has tripped them up too. I get it, but the bike sat for almost TWO WEEKS. Whatever, they were actually very helpful in getting the bike into the pickup and getting us on our way.

We get to Fred's house. With the help of his neighbor we get the garage open, the bike off the pickup and into the garage without a hitch. As we're heading back to home, the DH says, Since we don't have to return the pickup until tomorrow morning, what about getting the Sportster in to the local dealer to see if it can be resurrected?  Ooh, good idea!

I call the local dealer to see if they'll take on the job(some HD dealers won't work on bikes over ten years old. Yeah, I know). They can, and they will. But they don't have a bike ramp we can borrow to get the bike onto the truck. Hmmm. So we arrange to drop me off at home to clean the thick layer of dust off the Sportster while the DH goes to buy a ramp to get the Sportster on to the pickup.

An hour later we have a ramp and a reasonably-cleaned-up-Sportster to transport. We get the bike in the pickup without incident and go to the local dealer. The bike gets dropped off and we return the pickup before 5pm that day. BOOM. Done.

Yesterday afternoon I get a call from Fred asking me what the symptoms on the Softail I heard. We go over it, and he muses about the cam chain tensioners and says he'll call me back when he opens the bike up, probably the next day. Instead, I get a call about two hours later. Fred excitedly tells me that it's NOT the cam chain tensioners, but a locknut that had eased off one of the pushrods. The nut fell down and lodged itself onto a small shelf inside the cam chest. The pushrod then pushed itself short and that's what caused the ticking I had heard as well as the lack of acceleration. The pushrod can be easily fixed. The lifters were untouched. The cams are fine. The tensioners had about 25% wear after over 20,000 miles(most folk recommend to switch out the tensioners at 15,000 miles, so I got good performance from these tensioners).

If I had left the bike at the shady dealer, heaven knows what they would've done to the bike. Or if they would've been honest about the cam chain tensioners. Or if they would've found the real problem with the missing nut off the pushrod. So for now, it seems that I'm going to be spending way less to get the Softail back on the road than I had feared. It's going to cost a pretty penny to get the Sportster back up and running, but it'll be worth it. I'm pretty excited to have both bikes back up and running again.


PhilB said...

Yet another reason I'm glad I have the tools and knowledge to work on my own bike.

Of course, neither of those things were cheap, either monetarily or emotionally.


Anonymous said...

I wish I lived close to Fred so I could put my bike in his garage.

Sounds like you'll be back on 2 wheels soon. That's a good thing. Ride careful.


Judy said...

Think Fred would want to come to MN? I have an ailing FXR Shovel. :)