Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Are Motorcycles So Hard To Work On?


I drove into town this afternoon to the Honda shop to pick up a bottle of coolant so I can finally put the V-Strom back together after the Great Valve-Adjustment Fiasco of ’09. While I was there I went around back to talk to the mechanic, who has done all of the work on my bike that I haven’t done myself, despite him working for a Honda shop and me riding a Suzuki.

He was sitting on a stool beside a lift on which sat the filthiest old quad I’ve ever seen. There was so much mud caked on it I wasn't sure what brand of quad it was. I joked that it was nice when the customers cleaned their bikes before they brought them in for service. He said this one wasn't bad, and I should see one of the really dirty ones.

I congratulated him on having the patience to sit there all day and work on mutts like that quad, because it had taken me three weeks just to adjust the valves on the V-Strom. He knows me well enough to realize I wasn't talking about three weeks of eight-hour days, but rather an hour here and an hour there, often with several days between those hours to wait for parts or let my aching knees and back recover.

We got to talking about how hard it was to work on some bikes. I told him some of the horror stories the V-Strom valve adjust had generated, and he trumped every one with a tale of his own about newer Hondas, especially the sportbikes, some of which are so compact that you have to remove the injector bodies to adjust the valves.

On the drive home I thought about this, and wondered when and why motorcycles got so hard to work on. When I started riding, it seemed like you were practically expected to do your own maintenance. BMW motorcycles came with toolkits so complete you could almost strip the bike down to the bare frame by the side of the road. Even low-dollar Japanese bikes came with a little blue plastic bag crammed so full of tools you could never fit them all back inside once you took them out.

Now? Not so much. Some of the test bikes I’ve ridden in recent years came with a spark-plug wrench, a screwdriver, and three wrenches made of steel as hard as old cheese. Harleys, which for years had a reputation for stopping dead due to factors like a change in humidity, still don’t come with tools of any kind.

All I can figure is the manufacturers don’t want me messing with the bike at all. That’s understandable, I guess, in the age of emissions standards and corporate liability, but dammit, if that’s the way they want to play it, they ought to make sure every shop selling their brand employs mechanics who can use tools for something other than scratching their asses.

Some years back, I stopped by a Suzuki dealer to ask about a valve adjust on the bike I was riding at the time. The only guy in the shop looked about 20, and had on a T-shirt with the name of some heavy-metal band across the front. He was holding a torque wrench the way a monkey would hold a violin.

This did little to instill confidence in his mechanical ability. Still, I was already there, so I asked him if he’d ever done the valves on the model of bike I had, and he said, “No, but I’ve done the valves on my CBR600, and that’s the same kind of valves, right? With the little round things?”

I thanked him for his time, rode away, and did the job myself. It only took me two weeks back then. I guess I’m slowing down in my old age.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just ran across this post even though it is several years old and had to comment because I have noticed the same thing myself. I own an 1987 Honda V45 Magna and a 2007 Honda VFR800 Interceptor. I can do everything on the Magna with ease, but on the VFR maintenance is miserable. Just taking off the fairings is a pain w/the weird connectors they use. Bleeding the brakes is a huge process since it has linked braking. I suspect that the younger generation does not have time for things like bleeding brakes:) Soon the cost of a bike will be as a much as a Hummer the way things are headed. Thanks for the article. Cheers, Kevin