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Our website is all about motorcycles, especially BMW cycles. We cover rides in the Southwest and Mexico, motorcycle modifications and review motorcycle products. 

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Filtering by Author: Tomas Perez

BMW RT Switch Gear Repair... Maybe!

Tomas Perez

Updated 2014/01/19 - 2013/06/13 - 2013/06/04

Warning: This may not work for everyone!

Update: The switch finally totally quit on me (Jan 2014)

I stumbled into something that seems to have fixed both my right hand and left hand switch gear on my 2010 BMW R1200RT.  The bike currently has about 44,000 miles.  The left hand switch has been replaced four times since the bike was new.  Failures include bad cruise control (twice), bad windshield switch, and bad horn switch.  The last time the LH switch was replaced was April 17, 2013.  During a short 220 mile ride on May 27th I noticed that the windshield switch was not working while trying to raise the windshield.  That's the same problem I had with the switch when the bike was less than a year old.  In addition, when I stopped for a water break the bike would not start.  I kept pressing the start button while I cycled the clutch, side stand, and gear shift lever.  Nothing helped but after a number of presses the bike cranked over and started.  This behavior continued for the rest of the ride.  By the time I got home it was very difficult to start the bike.

The Service Manager at the dealer told me to spray some kind of contact cleaner on the starter switch so that I could start the bike and take it to him (265 mile each way).  I decided to use WD 40 Silicone spray mostly because it said it was safe for plastic and rubber parts.  It also provides a waterproof coating on parts.  I sprayed the switch and it would work after about 3 pushes.  Looking good!  I used a very small amount on the windshield switch also but it did not help.

The following day I went for a test ride.  The starter switch worked every time on the first push.  The windshield switch would work after a few tries.  By the end of my 10 mile test ride it was working on the first press almost every time I tried.  On the following day all was still well with the starter switch and the windshield switch continues to get better.  I'm thinking it might need a little more lubricant since I used very little the first time but I will continue to evaluate.  In the mean time the dealer is looking into getting the LH switch replaced under goodwill since the switch failed after only 6 weeks.

2013/06/04 - Update:

 I've gone on a few short rides.  The starter switch is working 100% of the time.  I can move the windshield up by pressing the switch in a very special way.  I don't want to hit it with more lubes because the dealer has agreed to replace the switch again.

2013/06/11 - Update:

The Boerne dealer replaced the LH switch gear on 6/7/2013.  I left the bike at the shop on Thursday and by 8:10AM on Friday the service manager called me telling me that the bike was ready.  All is well with the LH switches now.  I did have to try the starter several times before it made contact and started my bike on Saturday (6/8/2013).  I should mention that the bike sat out in the rain and I did some riding in the rain.  Maybe water is getting into these new switches.  By new I mean the 2010+ RT switch gear.  I plan to continue to use a cleaner/water repellent type of contact spray on the RH switch.  I hit a lot of rain yesterday and the switch worked fine.  My Austin, TX dealer is going to try to get the switch replaced since the bike is only a little over a month out of warranty.  I did confirm that once I start to pay for these switches they have a 2 year replacement policy as long as they are installed by the dealer.

2013/08/25  - Update:

I just wanted to add that the starter switch is still working and I have not done anything to it since the first time.  I'm tempted to give it another shot of silicone but if it's working I'm not going to mess with it.

2013/10/19 - Update:

The starter switch finally gave out three days ago.  Early in the day it was taking anywhere from 5 to 10 presses of the switch to get it to work.  By the time I got home it was taking way more than 10 presses to start the bike.  I did the contact cleaner and silicone spray thing again but it did no good.

Well... since my dealer is 265 miles away I decided to experiment a little.  In any case, I had nothing to loose and I had to find a way to start the bike so that I could ride it to the dealer.  I can make it on one tank of gas if I don't ride too fast.  What I did was to remove the switch from the bar.  There are only two very small screws holding the two halves together.  I think they are Torx 7 or 8.  Once off the bar there is not much more of the switch that you can see except for the wires leading to the switch gang.  In any case, I sprayed the starter switch with a good dose of contact cleaner.  The cleaner must have done it's job too well.  The reason I say that is that once I cleaned the switch I could hardly move it to either the stop or start position.  So then I hit it with a couple of short squirts of the silicon spray.  I let it soak for a few minutes before I tested it prior to reassembly.  To my pleasant surprise the switch worked!  Today was just my second day with the repair but the switch has been working perfectly.  I'll update this post if there is any change but so far so good.


Still looks new but it failed... again!

Spark Plugs and Motorcycles

Tomas Perez

New plug in the middle
Spark plugs have changed so much over the years. When I was young we tried changing spark plugs on US cars about every 10,000 miles. Back in those days it was easy to tell when the car was in need of new spark plugs and it was certainly easy to see worn spark plugs upon inspection. The typical signs that the plugs were bad were hard starting, miss-firing when accelerating, and bad cold weather running. Worn plugs have an increased gap. That makes it much harder for the spark to jump the gap. Increasing the compression only makes the problem worse. This increase of resistance now places additional stain on all the other parts of the ignition system including the rotor, distributor cap, and spark plug wires. Old timers will remember dealing with carbon tracks, cracks in the distributor cap, and glowing spark plug wires in the dark. In this article I'm only talking about spark plugs with an increased gap. I am not considering all the other problems you can have with plugs like broken components, oil soaked, soot, wrong heat range, loose wires, etc.

Well... those days are gone... for the most part. We don't have distributors (no cap or rotor) and many engines don't even have spark plug wires - they just place the coil on top of the spark plug. But the spark plugs are still a main part of our engines. Sometimes I think spark plugs are the forgotten step child of the engine maintenance procedures. People know about changing oil and filters but the spark plugs are left for last or totally forgotten. Many of my car driving friends never change the plugs until something happens. Recently one of my friends said "I just changed the plugs and three coils on the Ford".

I'm one of those guys that "forgot" to change the sparks plugs on my 2010 RT. I have a couple of excuses but that doesn't matter now (although I wonder why they were never changed at my dealer/mechanic provided services). The fact is that I rode my bike for 32,000 miles on the original set of plugs. I guess one advantage of dual plugs on the recent BMW boxer engines is that we can milk the plugs to the very end. The bike ran fine but look at the pictures above and below. You can see the center and side electrodes severely worn. The wire gauge I just used to measure the gap only goes up to 0.040 of an inch and it still had plenty of room left. At least 50% more gap.

Another view
I purchased the OE plugs for my bike. I'm not sure if there is a better spark plug for my bike but I figured BMW did their research and testing that's required with each of their engines. I am very disappointed on the way this spark plug is built... especially for a plug with a retail price of about $24 each. They simply welded on the side electrodes and then bent them over towards the center. That places the inside edge close to the center and most likely at the required gap. This method, in my opinion, presents several problems. First, the edge presents a sharp edge for the spark to jump to - it's the closest point to the center. Second, because it is a fine edge and all the sparks are jumping to that point it soon wears down. As it wears the side electrodes present a wider surface for the spark but by then the required gap is long gone. You can see what I am talking about in the pictures. The center is worn also but the sides are worn much more.
My idea on how they should be built

For $25 I think we should get the configuration shown above. Of course that means our spark plug companies won't sell nearly as many spark plugs as they do now. Look at some of the high end auto spark plugs and you see very well designed electrodes. The edges, if there are any, are not the closest point to the center electrode. The main objective is to be equidistant at all points.
Anyway, back to my bike. It feels like it's running better but it could be a placebo effect since I changed the spark plugs myself and feel like I did a wonderful job. In the future I'm changing the plugs as recommended by BMW or at the least every 20K miles.

Now at 38,000 miles I think I better change the alternator belt. I already have it - just need to do the work.

New Bike Break In Procedure

Tomas Perez

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to breaking in your new motorcycle engine; 1) ride it gently like the manual instructs you to do and 2) ride it like you stole it.  The standard way is keeping the revs (RPMs) under a predetermined limit for a given number of miles.  Some break in instructions allow for an increase in the RPM limit as the miles traveled pass milestones.  The second method (ride it like you stole it) is pretty much self explanatory.  Ride the bike hard and rev it to redline in the lower gears.

Break in procedures and the associated warnings are in place for a number of reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that all those parts that rub together must hone themselves in thereby creating a very smooth surface.  This process is effectively rubbing (I'm using that term rather loosely) all the peaks and valleys that the mating surfaces have after the manufacturing process.  Even if the assembly process honed every mating surface involved that would not provide any assurance that it would mate up with another part that is probably a different material and typically the opposite shape.  An engine has many examples of this, for example, pistons, cylinders, piston rings, wrist pins, crank shafts, connecting rod bearings, main bearings, and all kinds of cam components.  All these parts are rubbing together and depend on a smooth surface and a thin film of oil to prevent them from self destructing.  Engine technology and metallurgy has changed a lot since the early days but the basic principals of smooth mating surfaces still apply.

I have heard several reasons for the manufacturer's recommended procedures including that they want to make sure that a mistake wasn't made during assembly and the gentle break in will prevent catastrophic damage to the engine.  I believe the reason, apart from basic engine break in, is so that people don't push their machines to the limit for extended periods while all the moving parts are still adjusting to themselves.  In other words use common sense for example warm the engine up before pushing it, no extended redline running, no low speed wide open throttle extended runs, etc.  Each of these has a good mechanical reason for avoiding.  In addition, BMW recommends an oil change in the first 600 miles.  The main reason is metal wear.

There was a time when new or rebuilt engines would require crosshatching the cast iron cylinders in order to help seat the new rings.  Today's engine use much better materials for cylinders, pistons, and rings.  Since this material is so much harder it makes break in a longer process.  Of course the plus side is that once everything is seated in properly you have an engine that can run for many miles with very little wear.  When was the last time you heard someone complain about their engine having piston slap?

When we used to overhaul engine many years ago (cast iron block and the new thing back then was chrome rings) we would take the cars out to the highway and accelerate up to about 75MPH and then close the throttle completely until the car slowed to about 45MPH and accelerate again.  We would do this a number of times in order to seat the rings in.  This is nearly the same process that I use with my new motorcycles.

I push hard up to high speed of about 70 or 80 mph if I can.  If I have no safe way for those speeds I still do the same hard acceleration but in lower gears to much lower speeds.  Then as soon as I reach my target speed I let up on the throttle as much as I can.  For example if there are cars behind me I can't totally drop throttle but I still slow down a lot until the cars approach me again and I repeat the process.  The reason for hard acceleration is that it places a much greater force on all the piston and crank shaft parts.  Accelerating increases piston side thrust pressure and the combustion force increases the pressure on piston rings also.  The deceleration process is just as important.  When you close the throttle at high engine speed you are creating a negative pressure in the combustion area.  This negative pressure wants to suck oil into the combustion chamber.  It wants to suck it past the piston rings and even the valve guides.  This action serves to lubricate and cool those parts.  It's the breather they get after they were pushed hard in the acceleration process.  This procedure is very different from that of holding the throttle open for an extended period of time.  Doing that is never recommended - new or old engine.  That's the reason race car engine need overhauling so frequently especially drag racers.  Also note that I don't approach redline with this procedure - at least not with the RT but I did with my ST1300.

I'm not sure if this can still happen with modern engines but a caution used to be that an engine had a short time to properly start the break in process.  If not followed properly the risk of glazing cylinder walls existed.  Once this happened further break in could not take place.  Someone had to tear the engine apart again rough up the surfaces again and new rings installed.  Worn rings would not seat as fast or as well as new rings.  The rule was don't baby the new engine.  By the way, brake shoes used to glaze over also and that would render them nearly useless for stopping the car.

I'm one of those guys that never had a bike use oil including my current 2010 R1200RT.  Recommended oil changes are 6K miles but I have gone 8K miles between oil changes twice because of extended tours of over 4,000 miles and the engine has never needed oil.  The riding conditions always include high speeds, heavy loads, and lots of climbing - all conditions that increase oil consumption.

A cool 36 F in June

This is the procedure that I use.  I am not saying anybody else should use it.  As much as we pay for these bikes we should be careful with them.  I'm simply sharing what I do and why.


Switched (and Unswitched) Power Options

Tomas Perez

Power Distribution Box

What do you have to do to provide power to an accessory that you want to add to your motorcycle.  This is what I did on my R1200RT but the same principle applies to nearly any other motorcycle.

Switched - This means that power is supplied whenever the key is turned on.  Power is off when you switch your bike off.  It's nice because you don't have to worry about turning stuff on and off.

Unswitched - Power is always available regardless if the bike is running or not.  The caution here is that whatever you are powering could drain your battery but there are a number of times you may want to use this method.

Let's say you want to add a heated seat to your bike...

There are two ways you can provide a switched power source to your heated seat.  The cheaper (although not as nice or versatile solution) is to power a relay via the marker light wire.  The marker light is the small light at the corners of the headlight.  FYI: the marker light is really a parking light that is required in some countries.  You might be able to use the headlight wire also but I tend to stay away from those because of the CAN bus system.  When you turn on the key the light goes on and at the same time it energizes the relay that turn power on for the seat.  Bike off and the relay drops power and the seat is no longer receiving power power.

A better solution would be to use a power distribution box.  There are several in the market but I use the FuzeBlock.
Link: FuzeBlock

One small box kills about 4 birds with one stone.  This solution allows you have switched and unswitched power available to multiple devices and in addition allows you to fuse each one separately.  I use mine to power additional brake lights, XM radio, GPS, power amplifier, and SAE power plug.  I also have a direct connected (fused) SAE to the battery for heavy duty stuff.

Once you have installed a power distribution panel to your bike it makes it easy to add powered options.  In addition, you have the option of using switched or unswitched power.  You can even have double switched power to a device.  For example, let's say you want to add a driving light that only turns on with your high beam.  These types of lights normally come wi