Monday, June 14, 2010

Silencing The Genii In The Tank...

There is nothing more disturbing than sudden, strange, and persistent sounds emanating from a motorcycle that usually runs exactly the same way, day after day, year after year. It is disturbing on two levels: first because it is a departure from what you have come to expect, leading one to doubt the stability of the universe; and second as it is generally the prelude to writing a new chapter in your checkbook.

Hearing a new and peculiar sound always involves some measure of disbelief. I remember the first time I ever brought a woman to orgasm. She’d been a friend long before she’d been a lover and I was astounded at the sounds she was apparently capable of making. (I initially thought I’d broken something.) It is always at the end of a long day, when I am exhausted to the point of hallucination, that some strange noise materializes from my bike — leading me to wonder if I just imagined it, or if my riding technique has brought the bike to orgasm. And even then it is normal to go through a period of denial, either dismissing the sound as a freak occurrence, or reassuring myself it is something less than $300.

It is never less than $300.

BMW introduced the legendary K75 (750cc) in 1986. They built the last K75 nine years later, in 1995. I had a bike from the first manufacturing run, and now I am riding one from the last year these machines were made too. Both of these motorcycles had several things in common: a distinctive whine, a pronounced clunk when shifting gears, and a wind-up that eventually becomes very reassuring. For me, those sounds are the equivalent of a bra snapping open or of a woman’s lips on my ear. (Though my 1986 model, “Blue balls,” is gone forever, the number of running K75s from that year is fairly high.)

"Blue Balls"— My 1986 BMW K75 (With rare Sprint Fairing) sidebags not mounted.

"Fire Balls" — My 1995 BMW K75 (with Parabellum "Scout" Fairing), sidebags mounted.

I had only had my current machine for two months (back in 2007), when I was out for a ride with Dick Bregstein, on one of the hottest days of the year. It was in July and the heat danced on Route 30 (Lancaster, Pa) until it hit 95º (f). We were stuck in stop and go traffic and the fuel pump on my K75 started to scream. I could clearly hear the noise over the traffic. A young woman driving parallel to me in a convertible looked over and said, “That motorcycle must be a piece of real shit to sound like that.”

Handling the crisis well, I shouted to Bregstein, “What does that shit sound like?” We lane-split through the traffic until I could get to a shaded spot on the shoulder. Dick is half-deaf under the best of circumstances and he thought I said, “I have to take a shit on the bike.” His response was, “Do you need me to hold it for you, or can your feet reach the ground from the gas tank?”

Neither Dick nor I know the first damn thing about motorcycle engines, so listening, looking, and speculating produced no workable solutions. We were hunched over my bike when an Amish elder in a buggy pulled up and said, “I’d shoot this fucking horse right now if it made a noise like that.”

Located in the gas tank, the pump is cooled by the fuel. Yet on that day, the tank was heated by the engine underneath, and the sun above, until it had the feel of a hot radiator to my bare hand. My thought was that the heat had something to do with it. I put 2.5 gallons of cool gas in the tank and the noise stopped. Months later, I ran into *Mac Pac rider Jimmy Robinson at our club’s Christmas dinner. Robinson fired up his vintage K100, and it made that same sound.

“I’m nearly out of gas,” said Jimmy. “That’s what that noise usually means, as the pump is struggling to suck gas off the bottom of the tank.” Robinson later admitted he’d been riding the bike with the gas warning light on for two days. Heat could not have been the problem in his case, as the outside temperature was barely 32º (f). I assumed it was a fluke and forgot about it.

My fuel pump went into the shrieking mode twice the following year. It was a hot day and the gas warning light had started to glow on both occasions. In each case, I topped off the tank and the noise went away. I’d mentioned this in casual conversation with other riders in the Mac Pac, and at least one other person claimed to have a pump that made similar sounds.

BMW riders seldom discuss their “dirty laundry” or mechanical challenges with outsiders. A common complaint about the K75 is that the gas warning light comes on too soon. In my case, it used to come on at 140 miles, leaving more than another 100-plus miles in reserve. I never minded stopping for gas at 140 miles, as my knees and back normally needed to stretch out by then. But I didn’t like being forced to stop to prevent others from hearing that fucked-up screeching sound, which either indicated a design flaw or a poorly maintained bike.

The pump did not make the sound at all in the year following service by legendary BMW wrench Tom Cutter. But I think that may have been purely coincidental. This year, the engine oil and the fuel filter were changed in my garage at home here without challenge. The fuel pump started to scream on every ride — regardless of the gas level, and the fact there was a brand new fuel filter on the gas line.

The logic of consensus said the noise was coming from the pump as a result of significant back-pressure. At no time did the engine falter nor stall. I hit 111mph on the clock during this period (with the pump running silently) only to have it start screaming louder than ever two hours later in 90º (f) heat, at only 65mph.

Perpetual Boy Scout Mike Cantwell was riding with me that day. “Goodness gracious,” he exclaimed. “What the fuck is that noise?" Cantwell heard the sound over his running engine, over my running engine, and through the flip-face, modular helmet that covered his head.

I cannot stand to have anything on my bike that is a hair off factory specs. Plus there was a real performance concern. An increased load on the pump could cause a fuse to blow or simply burn out the unit. I do not need to explain to my fellow riders what the sudden loss of fuel pressure would mean if it occurred during a fast low curve, or pulling out into traffic. So I asked more than 300 riding buddies at how many miles did their K75 fuel pumps fail and what did they pay for the part?

Not one of them had had cause to replace a fuel pump.

I ordered the part from the dealer ($333) and a buddy of mine offered to put it in. The pump came in two variations. The first of these included the pump unit complete with the vibration suppressor, the collar, and other stuff, including a nylon screen/gas strainer on the bottom (not the fuel filter). The second was just the pump canister itself ($222), enabling the mechanic to scrounge the ancillary parts off the original, thereby saving $100.

I ordered the complete pump.

My reasoning was that all of this stuff had been sitting in gasoline laced with ethanol for 15 years. I heard stories of the nylon screening dissolving and being sucked into the pump. I also heard stories of the vibration suppressor dissolving in the gas. In the final analysis, it just wasn’t practical to have the mechanic come over to the house and pull the pump prior to the 68-mile ride to dealership — and have him come back on another day to install it —just to save $100.

Das Fuel Pump ist das part on der right. Part #1 cost me $333.00 at the local BMW dealer. I could have saved $100 by just purchasing part #2 and salvaging the rest of the stuff from the original pump. Who wants to worry about 15-year-old part transplants? The vibration supressor, part #5, is $79 by itself. It is hard rubber and I did not feel like twisting it around, until it likely broke in my hands. Part #3 is the nylon gas screen. The fuel filter mechanism is on the left. It is $29, and they have been known to last years, or until the first shitty batch of gas. Neither is in scale to the illustration of the fuel tank, bottom right.

A retired nuclear/electric engineer, Brian Curry is regarded as a K75 Guru in BMW circles. He has taken K75s apart and rebuilt them thousands of times as a hobby. He had the old pump out in 15 minutes. I was expecting it to look like a battle-scared, gas soaked, worn-out piece of equipment. It was almost in pristine shape. The nylon screen/gas strainer on the bottom was intact and strong. The rubber vibration suppressor was as solid as it’s new replacement. There was no sign of the scum from rotting ethanol as I was led to expect. Worse, my gas tank was as spotless and shiny inside as a brand new, empty beer can. (I had half expected to find a piece of paper wrapped around the gas strainer, or to discover the strainer had dissolved and been sucked up into the pump.)

Certified Beemer wrench Tom Cutter asked me if I routinely used gas stabilizer in the tank during long periods of inactivity in the winter. I began to stammer, to which he replied, “I thought so.” Cutter explained that for fuel pumps left sitting in untreated gas for long periods of time are more susceptible to getting lined with old gas/varnish. He further explained that while the gas strainer on the bottom probably looked good, it could have been nearly clogged with varnish, while still looking serviceable. The fact that my pump had begun the death screech could have been an indication that damage had already been done.

Curry rolled his eyes as he handed me the corpse of the fuel pump. The unspoken bad news in his eyes read “Maybe the noise the pump is making is a symptom, and not a cause.” (There is a reason why Curry is not invited to weddings nor christenings.)

Others, like that happy bastard Clyde Jacobs, (who waited until I had already made the 136-mile round-trip to the dealer), also suggested that a faulty fuel regulator could be damaging the pump. This is a $135 part that lurks at the end of the fuel rail, and which probably takes 18-hours to get at. Watching Curry install the fuel pump was like observing Ray Charles play the piano. Curry had to attach the hoses and internal connections by feel, as the opening in the tank is far too small to see what you’re doing, or to even use both hands. So he did it blind.

The whole process took him less than an hour. He pressed the starter button and the K75 roared into life. The pump was again silent, but it always started out that way. I’d have to take a long ride on a hot day to put things to the ultimate test.

It took my friend a little longer to install a “Back-Off” illuminated license plate bracket on “Fireballs.” The K75’s rear running light is a dim bulb that was once used to illuminate Vatican interrogation dungeons. This same bulb casts a murky light over the numbers on the license plate. A second bulb of about 20 watts serves as the brake light. I was on a run one rainy night when the running light crapped out. Mac Pac rider Rob Haut was on my tail and claimed a bad situation was instantly worse, as far as rearward visibility went. Haut warned me about the blown tail light in the same tones that public health officials talk about clap. His tone suggested that my slipshod approach to life had something to do with the bulb failure. I hit my flashers for the brief 10-mile ride home. (The Mac Pac is southeastern Pennsylvania's charted BMW riding and eating club, and is well-known throughout the world for its accomplishments with regard to putting exotic things in its respective mouths.)

Dual LED License Plate Frame -- From Signal Dynamics. This is offered in chrome or black, with one model coming complete with amber turn signal strips too. This unit is $79 and comes with the wiring harness. Extra are the black mounting bolts for $12. It struck me as a neat way to improve rear visibility through a cool piece of farkle. Signal Dynamics offers a full array of motorcycle accessories and lighting options. They are a delight to deal with.

I have since made two significant alterations to the K75’s rear lighting. The first was the installation of two groups of 16 red LEDs on each side of the stop light. The rear lens on the K75 has two empty compartments that seem tailor-made for this application. The LED pods (which are rectangular) fit nicely in each, and have a factory-finish look to them. So I have the benefit of bold lighting on the back, without wires going all over the place, nor electrical tape holding up fixtures that look like LEGO blocks. Hitting the brakes causes both pods to flash aggressively — and cleanly.

There is an additional chip that lets them flash for 20 seconds, before going to steady on. I didn’t bother with the chip and these lights flash constantly the entire time the brake is on. This is illegal, as only emergency vehicles are allowed flashing red lights to this extent. I’ll take my chances with the ticket in favor of a light show to alert drivers coming up behind me. This puts the power of 32 red LEDs into my stop signal.

The “Back-Off” license plate bracket is from Signal Dynamics and costs $79. Mine is powder-coated black and has a line of 18 red LEDs top and bottom. All 36 LEDS glow at 50% power when the bike is running. They go to 100% when the brakes are applied. So as I come to a stop, 32 LEDs are flashing, and 36 others are on constantly, in addition to the OEM 20-watt bulb. When riding around, 36 LEDS are at half power as running gear. The fact that these are LEDS mean an almost negligible power drain.

Do I think that any of this additional lighting will prevent an asshole from rear-ending me? Not a shot. But it can’t hurt. I was out and about the other day, when dusk came at the usual time. There was a guy ahead of me on a cruiser and I watched as his single, chrome-framed tail light got lost in the sea of red ahead of me.

“Wow,” I thought. “And mine was dimmer than that.”


I was on the road for a four-day motorcycle ride through rural Pennsylvania last week. The riding temperatures were perfect, a high of about 73º, and the distance was a modest 200-miles. The fuel pump performed to spec and didn’t make a sound on the entire run. At some point, on an undisclosed road, in an unnamed state, I “pulled the ton” for about 90 seconds, but routinely hit the mid-eighties on the clock. Neither the machine nor the pump faltered once. Some guys ride because they like their bikes to make noise. I prefer the sound of silence... The mantra of precision German stealth.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The “Lindbegh Baby” (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain — PS (With A Shrug)


RichardM said...

A nice post. I have been thinking of doing something to improve my visibility, both front and rear. I was on a ride last week and a couple of other riders had the flashing LED brake lights and I was amazed at the difference they make.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard:

The LED flashers (hidden in the rear lens) are by far the most visible options on my bike, when it comes to being seen from behind. The LED license plate bracket was actually a holdover from my other BMW. I really liked it as farkle and have been meaning to get it installed for two years now.

The LEDS on the plate bracket really come into their own at dusk and in the dark. Naturally, they play a greater role if that single running light should go out again. The farkle-ization of Fire Balls is almost complete with barely one or two options left to go.

The Steble/Nautilus compact air horn will be installed this week. My last dream option will be the acquisitiion of a K75 Authority Bike brake pedal extender. And believe me, the search is on for this rare part.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Electra Glide In Blue said...

You should have added a disclaimer for your young readers.
It doesn't cost $300 to bring a girl to organism.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear EGIB:

It does if you want her to fake a really good one.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Toads

redlegsrides said...

Jack, luckily I live somewhere where one can ride year round if one has a mind to. Or, lacks the common sense to stay off the bike in bad weather. Or has a Ural sidecar. Or all of the above.

Beemer parts sure are expensive aren't they?

Unknown said...


I like the looks of FireBalls. I would change out the handlebars for a wider one, the factory bars are too narrow for me

Wet Coast Scootin

Conchscooter said...

Thank you for the useful informations. What is this fuel organism of which you are writing so purposefully? My triumph is not so equipped and thus runs perfectly with no whining or orgasms . Ishould have thought your modest posterior might be of sufficience to protect your testes with no need of strong lights. Are you fearful Mr Red Balls of Fire?

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

I was actually prepared to spend up to $500 for a fuel pump, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the complete package was only $333. But after looking at it, and at similar looking pumps for cars and trucks that cost only $70, I thought the cost of repairs pretty much guarantee a good screwing.

On the subject of substitute pumps... I might have been inclined to try a unit made for a car or something else , if I had been caught on the tundra or the veldt. But there is the question of flow rates and pressures, two carefully calculated factors with BMWs, that led me to simply bite the bullet.

And I might be inclined to ride through the damp but not snowy days of winter — if I had a trike. Wh knows? It may come to that.

Thank you for reading and for writing in!

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobscoot:

The K75S I had (Blue Balls) had more in common with a Triump, when it came to lines of the machine. (And I am taking about mine, with the Sprint Fairing).

Fire Balls has the lower seat mounting, that positions the rider farther back in the saddle. The Russell Day Long Seat, the authority bars, the black accenting, and the handlebar set-up give this machine a more massive feel to it... Yet it is in many rgards the same bike as Blue Balls. Odd that you mentioned the handlebars as tight. These are the "C" bars which are among the widest made by BMW. The "S" bars of Blue Balls were about 40% tighter and required more of a sport bike stance on the part of the rider.

Still, I'm glad the look of this one appeals to you. It farkelization is nearly complete.

Thank you for readng my blog, and for commenting.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Conchscooter:

It is just as well that your Amish "Triumph" Bonerville is not equiped with fuel injection nor a tachometer, as you'd have to drive to Atlanta to get them calibrated. This is one of the trials of living in paradise, where fat people can wander around in their plaid shorts, and where the local town crank is easily identified by his pink slippers.

The Valkyre-like power whine of the K75 has often been compared to the moto equivalent of foreplay. But no matter... Certainly not to those who carry a can of starting ether under their seats in the finest British tradition. Speaking of which, how is your oil leak coming along these days?

Regarding my ponderous ass, there has been some discussion lately that a new noise, attributed to an agressive muffler, was actually opposite sides of my slab-bacon posterier hanging down into the spokes of the rear wheel. People can be so cruel, as you are aware.

Thank you for reading my blog and for dragging two or three comments out of the gutter and hurling them into my face. The time will come when we will ride together... And make a video... With sound.

Have a good trip and watch your own ass.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Cantwell said...

Dear Jack,
I'm glad you had that pump replaced. My goodness that thing made one fucking racket, eh?
Hope to see you soon,

Woody said...

Dear Jack,
I have $400 (seriously) invested in lighting for the back of my bike.

Shortly after purchasing the bike, I bought a kisan tailblazer ($90) to modulate the brake light. I have the same license plate frame ($80) that I moved from my R1100R also connected to the tailblazer.

About six months later, I purchased an LED brake light module ($100) that has its own blinker, so I left the license plate connected to the tailblazer and let the brake light do its own thing.

My last purchase was a pair of LED turn signal modules ($120) that contain a row of red LED’s that can be connected to the brake circuit. I chose to connect them to the tailblazer as well. (I may as well mention I have a Kisan SignalMinder, that runs my turn signals at 60% brightness all the time as running lights)

Just last week, Tony Antonelli personally phoned me to tell me how fucking stupid I look from outer space.

Nikos said...

Like so many episodes in my life I appear to have missed the climax - we don't really seem to have bottomed out as to why the pump was whining?

The variables here are

battery voltage
fuel temp
fuel quality (winter fuel is different to summer fuel)
air temp
bla bla bla....

You probably won't be interested to hear that I'm looking at a K75 this RT model with a big fairing stuck on the front!

Many felicitations from England, N

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell:

Your fifteen minutes of glory in my blog is coming. Yes, it is.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Woody:

You have become the master of the punchline... I will sit at your feet, and let you call me "Grasshopper." This was quite the funniest thing I had read all week.

I have read it aloud to several friends of mine.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

The official diagnosis was that Odin summoned the soul of the fuel pump to Valhala, and that it left in degrees. (Works for me.)

My friend, Brian Curry, rides a K75 RT, with that huge fucking fairing on the front of it. He loves it. And quite frankly, it is a machine of both substance and comfort. I am very interested in your opinion of this machine and hope you will send me some pictures.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Cosmicly, Ihor said...

The appearance of a new noise reinforces the belief in the infinity of the universe, as there are always new noises and organisms to be observed.
Good to know your lighting scheme is vying for an honorable mention come Christmas. Any chance a helmet rig will be installed?
Off to the ADKs on Friday for 8 days. Rain seems to be the majority forcast.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ihor:

I am using a blueprint from Pee Wee Herman to farkle-ize my motorcycle. While not quite on a par with Pee Wee Herman's bicycle, it is getting there.

New farkle for this month:
a) air horn
b) digital voltmeter (maybe)
c) header pipes by Jet Hot

And then the machine will be complete... It will be (choke) done.

Have a good time in the Adirondacks. I'll call you tomorrow.


Unknown said...

Jackie "r":

Your farkelization will never be complete. When you think you are done, your K75 will start making more noises

Wet Coast Scootin

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
So it was your gas pump that was squealing. All the time I thought it was your custom seat screaming for relief from your custom ass.
Wasn't that a great ride we had last week? We couldn't have asked for better weather - except for Wednesday; I'm sure it was sent to us by Al Gore.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

The noise, which led to the replacement of the fuel pump, is not affiliated with farkle. That's a repair.

Farkle, as you are aware, is the glorification of a machine through accessories deemed utterly necessary.

Now if you and I were of the cruiser persuasion, we'd be out buying chrome powerlet covers and fringed seat tweakers. Instead, we find things like muted volt meters rimmed in deep black.

My bike is almost done. It will be with those three items. There were four, but I have given up on the tp case replacement, as I must always have one that opens from the front.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

That was a great ride we took... And I can't thank you, Pete and Clyde enough for the consideration you guys extended to me on the way.

We have to do it again soon.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Classic Velocity said...

Jack, I see your heat theme continuing here...nevada desert, centralia, and now this. Are you trying to offset the blizzard posts ;-) Nice stuff as always, and a mechanical repair to boot. You may not wrench much, but you sure write about it well.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Classic Velocity (Wayne):

I'm glad you liked my technical "blog." That's about as close to real wrenching as I get. And quite frankly, I hope that's all this machine needs for a while.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Lance said...

Jack, as usual I not only learn much, but laugh much, when reading your posts; this one is no different. I appreciate what you have done to your bike to make it more visible; every bit helps in my mind.

PS - got your book in the mail - thanks so much, and check forthcoming.

Unknown said...

Jack "r":

said: "The noise, which led to the replacement of the fuel pump, is not affiliated with farkle. That's a repair.

but the pump was working fine, so you purchased a pump that wasn't necessary, thus "farkle"

Now I know what it is like to have Jack rIEPE syndrome, you wake up and see if you can manage your day (or not)

Wet Coast Scootin

Anonymous said...

Dear Jack,

I can't wait to see photos of the K75 parked in your living room decked out as the Christmas Tree Bike of the year for 2010 of some expensive foreign bike rag centerfold.

Seriously, I like the lights and my Mistress could use some more as well.

P.S. I still am suffering nightmares from seeing you dressed as Santa Clause, at least I think it was you, from somewhere on the Twisted Roads Blog, with a cigar and drink in one hand while handing out candy to some not so young vivacious female elves with the other.

Ride on,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Lance:

A motorcycle is like a woman in many regards. One feels compelled to buy it nice and pretty things. On the other hasnd, it will never throw one of your friends a "pop" just kick you in the chops. As I said, the farkization of "Fre Balls" is almost done.

I hope the book made you laugh.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

I sincerely hope the problems with your foot have vanished by the time you read this comment. It has been asges since I posted owing to a couple of major distractions, including a visit to the cardiologist. But it would apprear I'm in better shape than previously suspected.

I'm going oput for a ride today, though it will only be for a hundred and twenty miles or so.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Torch:

The photos you are refering to are me as a Swedish Saint -- Santa Lucia. I had them taken to annoy the hell out of a Swedish friend of mine. I like them so much, I used them for Christmas Cards.

The current number of lights on this K75 concludes my investment in special effects. The last items on my list now include the installation of an air horn and the Jet-hot treatment (black) for my headers.

Then "Fire Balls" is done.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

irondad said...

Only you would claim the possibility that you brought your bike to orgasm. Is it male or female? Secondly, how do you know the damn bike wasn't faking it? Then you would have spent all that money for nothing? Although I've heard that sincerity does cost more.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

All motorcycles are the gender opposite that of the rider. (I'm surprised you didn't know that.) With regard to whether or not the bike was faking the orgasm, obviously you've only had limited experience with BMW's (or just thought they made cars). BMW builds only honest bikes which deliver honest performance, for the vast hinest fortunes you will pay for them.

I laughed when I read your comment this morning.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads