I’ve got the song, “Magic Man” by Heart stuck in my head, and for good reason. My ruling husband has got me through the latest motorcycle maintenance battle, and I am so relieved. Last August we went on a mellow roadtrip to Manning Park and came back with some really hurting bikes. Both “Scotty P” (1980 Suzuki SP 400) and “Jimmy Jam” (1976 Triumph Bonneville T140V) have been labouring in the Dirtymoto garage since November, which is located in east Vancouver and shared by a group of ladies. Technically, Scott is a man but we’ve made exceptions for solid guys in the past to assist us in our projects, so I figured he was safe.
For the Suzuki we took off the back tire and replaced the rear sprocket, only to strip the gummy bolts on the cover concealing the front sprocket. I had tried to extract the bolts with special tools, but it kept getting worse. With help from our buddy Stephen, we finally got the bolts removed only to have the front sprocket be crazy stubborn since I was limited to an adjustable wrench rather than the perfectly sized wrench. So, we sucked it up and bought a 30mm socket and will do that job last, combined with a new chain.
Stephen had a lot of experience replacing tires, so he helped us accomplish that battle as well. On various trips to the garage, Scott and I switched out the old air filter with our own ghetto design, replaced the crappy fuel line, did an oil change, replaced the shredded throttle cable, swapped out the old spark plug, pulled off the carb and cleaned it thoroughly, and hooked up a new high tension lead. I also decided to do a valve adjustment on his bike, since that’s what I had been plodding away with on my own bike. Scotty P had been idling so badly and the kickstarter had lost a lot of compression, so it made sense. The first attempt was frightening, since the compression suddenly got super intense and the compression lever was useless. We gave it another go, and nailed it. This time the bike was kicking over easily and the idle was consistent. Scott took the bike for a ride around the hood and was just beaming. The lows made the highs that much more sweet.
Meanwhile, my Triumph was just a real mystery and struggle. After the Manning trip my bike refused to idle and I would have to hold the throttle at the stop lights to keep it alive. And then I lost all the tension in my kickstarter… it would just do a pathetic flub. I could feel and hear a “woof” of air under the valve covers, and knew something was weird.
I guess the cool part is that I can now whip off my gas tank and valve covers super fast after doing it something like four times! The problem was that the first manual I had was for several years of Triumphs, and ignored the fact that the T140V has a very unusual and specific valve setting (.008 for the intake, and .006 for the exhaust), which I found out later. So, the first attempt wasn’t quite right but at least the compression was back. The valve adjusters were crazy tight which meant that any release was a good thing, I figured. The second time I followed the instructions of the Triumph Youtube sensation named Lunmad, doing the right hand side (intake / exhaust), and then the left hand side (intake / exhaust), and with the correct size of feeler gauge, but again I had no life when I kicked it over. The kickstarter was so tight that it could hold my whole body weight and not budge. I then followed the manual specific to the T140V, which instructed me to adjust both intake valves at the back and then the two exhaust valves in the front (rather than right side, followed by left side), but nothing worked!
Each attempt required me to take off the tank, remove the fuel lines, the support bar, the spark plugs, and then the valve covers. With Scott’s help I would then pop it on the centre stand, get it into gear, and he rotated the tire while I tried to observe the perfect point to make my four adjustments. It was really discouraging, not to mention that the weather was gloriously sunny, and I was barely recovered from a nasty cold, cough and lung infection!
I took one more stab at the internet to see if I could glean any information that might shed some light on the situation. I knew that Top Dead Center (TDC) was connected to the process of valve adjustments, but because neither manual, nor the youtube video made any mention of the importance of finding TDC I simply assumed that on my Triumph it wasn’t crucial. TDC comes up in the chapter on timing, but not in valve adjustment – maybe it’s so obvious that they didn’t bother mentioning it? I decided to be extra meticulous one last time. Scott joins me after work, we do the whole routine to prep the bike, and then we start lining up TDC, rotating the wheel, watching the flywheel, sticking a straw down the spark plug holes, and finding the sweet spots for all the valves. I made sure the adjusters were secure, repeatedly used the feeler gauge, and then wiped my hands of it.
The Dirtymoto garage has no running water or bathroom, so we would always bring hot tea and snacks, and I had my trusty glass jar to pee in. Not exactly the ideal set-up, but the neighbours are nice and this one dude would pop by and give us samples of his homebrew beer for encouragement. We decided not to mention that Scott doesn’t drink, as it seemed like he enjoyed coming round to offer us conversation and a drink, so I’ve acquired quite the stash of beers. Tasty beers, too!
I explained to the neighbour that I wouldn’t drink the beer until I had something to celebrate, so the third attempt left me dry. On the fourth attempt I tried to kick it over after the whole procedure, but was just too exhausted and my back was aching. I was sure that it was another dud and that I would have to figure out a way to rent a truck, load the bike, take it to British Italian mechanics, wait for weeks, and fork out a wad of cash. Scott suggests that we clean up the shop and give it another go. This time he steps up and just heaves his whole weight onto the kickstarter. On the third kick we hear a rumble! My eyes almost pop out of my head! He keeps going and going until magic! Jimmy Jam is alive and running. Hallelujah!
There’s a ton of smoke from all the oil that leaked onto the bike and the dirt in the mufflers, but he’s soon idling sweetly. I’m wondering if the proper valve setting might take a bit of getting used to, and maybe after some heat they will settle down and the kick starter will get easier. I turned it off and tried it myself, and it got much easier. Then, I popped on the helmet and took him for a ride in the cool night air and was just so grateful. I don’t know if this helped, but the two times that Scott had his successful kicks (on both Scotty P and Jimmy Jam), I sent up a hopeful prayer and sent some loving thoughts to my friend who just came out of surgery for cancer. It might sound foolish, but I felt like something shifted in the universe and the bikes must have felt it too.
I still have to do an oil change and get some fresh brake fluid into the system, but those tasks I have pretty dialed, so am feeling optimistic that I’ll be on the road by the weekend. It was our goal to have running bikes by the end of February, and through persistence, research, and patience things are looking up. I’m also just incredibly grateful to have a partner who was willing to learn with me and to keep my spirits high. A big thank you to my Magic Man, Scott. You rule.
Sometimes it can be hard to maintain the enthusiasm for a project when you’re waiting for parts or getting stumped by stupid bolts or when it’s cold outside (and inside the garage!), but that’s where a good friend or partner can really help keep the energy going. The Dirtymoto garage takes about a 20 minute bike ride to get to, and while the dream situation would be to have a garage in one’s backyard to pop out to after work (with access to a bathroom!) and consistently work on a project, it is still pretty wonderful to have this option in our expensive city.