Saturday, October 25, 2008

Helping My Pal Richard Machida...

Nothing makes me happier than to receive comments regarding a story I’ve written for a motorcycle magazine, for postings on this blog, and for bits and pieces I’ve sent to other bike lists. One of the things that amazes me is the number of serious technical questions I receive. No one would let me get within 50 feet of a motorcycle if I had a screwdriver in my hand... For good reason. On the night before what would have been my first overnight ride to a motorcycle rally in a neighboring state, I decided to check the transmission fluid on a 1986 BMW K75.

Checking oil in anything is something any male baboon should be able to do by reflex.

According to the manual, I was to remove a filler plug and fully insert the flat handle of the wrench used to adjust the mono-shock into the opening. The incredible German minds that designed this bike eliminated the need for a dipstick and came up with this arrangement instead. There was a photograph in the manual that showed a graduation engraved on the wrench handle (to indicate the perfect level for the oil) and presumably the manner in which it was to be inserted. It should be noted that the caption under the picture was in German, a language I do not speak.

I followed the instructions and was aghast to discover the transmission was dry. I had just had this sucker up to three digits on a straight-away the week before and shuddered to think of what could have happened had the tranny seized. I started adding transmission fluid and periodically tried to check its depth. The damn thing swallowed a quart of fluid without registering a drop on the wrench handle.

“Holy shit,” I thought. It was at this point that I suspected I had missed some critical yet important point. I started calling people and thereby established my reputation for being an idiot when it comes to things mechanical.

As it turned out, I was inserting the wrench the wrong way. When I stuck it in correctly, it measured one quart over full. One individual summed up the situation by saying, “Jack, a moron can do this. Shake your family tree and ask the first person who falls out to do it for you! And whatever you do, don’t start that damn bike!” A friend of mine drained the transmission and refilled it correctly the next day.

So I am always surprised when anyone fires off a serious question my way. On October 24, 2008, Richard Machida asked the following question:

“The charging system on my R100RT seems to be happy with barely a bit over 12 volts at the battery. The gauge happily reports 12 even. The bike never seems to crank very fast, in my humble opinion, so I'm wondering how the bike would do on a long trip i.e. no battery tender in sight. I'd be interested in your evaluation.”

Well Richard, my evaluation is that your bike would be more enthusiastic about starting if you had a happier outlook on life. (In other words, don't be such a prick.) But that doesn’t help you any. So I asked the guys in the know and this is what I got back:

• Steve M. (the smartest person in Canada) said, “The quick and dirty answer is to take your bike off the battery tender, use it normally, and see if it gives you any trouble. Of course, you should keep in the back of your mind that it may not start reliably, so don't let it be your only mode of transportation to work while you are performing this experiment.

“If the bike fails to start, the cause could be a number of things, ranging from a worn battery that can no longer supply the cranking amps required to turn over the engine, to an incorrectly set up throttle assembly (been there). And this is where the real troubleshooting begins.”

• Wayne W. (In the witness protection program) said, “Twelve volts sounds low, but I'm not sure I'd trust the gauge on the bike. Use a real voltmeter. If it's 12 volts on a real voltmeter, I'd assume there's a problem. The diode boards on Airheads were notorious for failure, but that's a shotgun diagnosis. The charging system has several components and you need to systematically diagnose each component, in the correct order.

“I'd reply: It's intuitively obvious to the casual observer, that you need a new Flux Capacitor."

• Dan W. (who regards electricity as the work of the devil) said, “What is the voltage at 2000 RPM? It should be at least 13.5 volts. The charging system is suspect if voltage is lower.

But the fact of the matter is that there is no room for speculation here. If you are out in the boondocks where it’s been six hours since you last saw a light on the horizon, the last thing you want is a light on the dash telling you the battery and the alternator have gone belly up. If you are like me, you need the services of an expert.

I am not a motorcycle mechanic, but I know the best one in the whole universe, and count him among my very best friends. You can contact him at His name is Tom Cutter and he is best BMW Airhead expert on Earth, and knows everything about everything. He also charges very fair prices and is pleasant to chat with on the phone. (Tom was good enough to supply me the text for this paragraph.)

Tom Cutter has an international reputation for bike restoration, transmission rebuilds, and perfection in service excellence. BMWs with rebuilt transmissions, motors or annual maintenance from the Rubber Chicken Garage are known as “Cutter Bikes,” and have fetched higher resale prices.

In conclusion, Wayne W. also said something else. It was:

“Jack, you stated this disclaimer -- "My knowledge of things mechanical is well known and my attempts to arouse interest in this mystery have been met with ill-disguised derision,” -- and this guy still asked you a technical question?

What can I tell you? These guys play hardball.

Advisory -- Twisted Roads accepts no compensation from the Rubber Chicken Racing Garage, but unconditionally recommends their work. It is not our policy to refuse compensation, but no one ever offers any. In fact, Mr. Cutter has been openly critical of this blog -- and I still have no problem extending this endorsement.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)


RubberChickenUSA said...


I'm always glad to receive the warm and enthusiastic endorsement of a man whom I terrorize daily.

BTW, Richard, it is time to get your electric starter fixed and your battery and charging system tested. Don't wait until you are sranded, then you are out of alternatives. If you want loads of advice and tech help with yoyur Airhead, go to adn click "email lists". That will take you to a sign-on screen and you can join he Airlist, where you can ask tech questions like crazy, and actually get accurate, correct responses.

With Jack Riepe, you are better off to ask such questions as: "What band size cigar would be correct to drive an annoying mother-in-law from my home and township?" That would be a queston that Jack could actually handle with authority.

Oh, if you are in the Southeastern PA area, you might want to get with us in the Mac-Pac. Sometimes we help each other with tech issues. Google Mac-Pac BMW to find us oddballs.

Charlie6 said...

Hi Jack

Don't feel too bad about inserting the wrench upside down when trying to measure the transmission fluid level....could be worse: First time I drained the final drive on my R80, I kept looking in the fill hole for it to show when full of fluid! I was supposed to be looking at a different opening! Ended up overfilling it!

The system is designed (for doofus wrenchers like me) to allow too much fluid to escape and so no damage ensued when I rode it for a day or so. Once I noticed oil all over my rear wheel, realized my mistake, drained the final drive and measured correctly, no more oily wheel.


+1 on the email list, they're very helpful and tolerant of noobies like me asking basic questions. Get your battery checked out at the local autoparts store. Tom Cutter is definitely one of the acknowledged gurus in the airhead community. Check out also their archives of all the emails sent over the years here:


you have to sign up for an account but its free. Search there first before asking the email list your question though, might save some time.

There's also Snowbum's website and his vast collection of technical knowledge re airheads and their care and feeding. He's another of the gurus.

Snowbum LINK

I recently swapped out my battery on my airhead, she was struggling at times to crank the engine. She starts much better now. I just have to also remember to engage the choke when the engine is cold to aid in the starting process.

Good luck with that starting issue, electrical issues remain somewhat of a mystery to me still, but I am learning with the help of airheads everywhere.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Rubberchickenusa (Tom)

I'm sorry it took so long to acknowledge this comment. I was "on assignment," that is to say blowing cigar smoke up a former mother-in-law's butt, to get her to move to another state. As I have stated previously, my mechanical ability is limited by my sense of public responsibility.

The link to the Airhead's list will be valuable for a lot of folks. I have just entered your name in the monthly readers' meals contest and will laugh myself silly if you win.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Once again, thank you for weighing in on this issue. It is hard to imagine that anyone could confuse this site with one being a source of practical information... But it's nice to know "Twisted Roads" can rise to the occasion.

Fondest regards,

Rogers George said...

I happen to have an R100RT and I solved all my voltage problems with an enduroLast permanent magnet alternator and associated circuitry. I couldn't be happier. And I had Tom Cutter of the rubber chicken etc. do the work. Recommended.
BTW--my latest blog post mentions a motorcyclist.

John said...

Asking Jack for mechanical advice is truely an exercise in the blind leading the blind. But Jack has the sense to defer to others who know more, and that alone makes him smarter than a lot of other doofuses who insist they know the way and screw up royaly. Cutter is the man who knows his stuff and is willing to share.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Rogers, John, and Snow Bum:

I'd like to thank you all for commenting on this edition of Twisted Roads. As I have stated before, and have had seconded by your comments, I am a total dope on things mechanical. The Airheads link was provided by Mr. Cutter for those who care to experiment. For those like myself, who do not care to take their watch apart when they want to know the time, just take it to Cutter. You'll get it back faster than you ever imagined... It will run better than you would have hoped... And you will not be subjected to hours of frustration association with Teutonic mystery.

Fondest regards,

Richard Machida said...

Actually, I was asking your opinion of the voltmeter gadgets after you used them for a while but I do appreciate all the advice and comments (from others) regarding the seemingly low voltage problem. I have all winter to look into this since it is -16F outside today. Keep the stories coming.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard:

And I thought I was providing you with valuable information that you desperately needed! At least you made the headlines in my blog!

Fondest regards,

Sojourner rides said...

Jack, I have found you to be a wealth of information! Even if you don't know something, you always sound convincing! And, you certainly seem to know how to make "hook ups" with those in the know...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

I am known in certain circles as the man who knows nothing and tells all!

Fondest regards,