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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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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.


Harley Davidson Service Woes!

Ricardo Perez

My 2008 HD Ultra Classic
My dad was a mechanic so naturally we grew up around cars and servicing vehicles.  One of my dad's cardinal rule was never buy a car that rolled off the assembly line on a Monday or Friday. That was back in the day when we would typically special order the car you wanted. Another "rule" that I've learned along the way is to never take your vehicle in for service right before any holiday. Well, I violated one of my cardinal rules and took my Harley Ultra Classic in for a new rear tire.
I dropped the bike off on Wednesday afternoon, December 28th. I use Metzelers and made sure they noted that. The Serviceman recommended doing the 40K service since I was approximately 1,200 miles short of the 40,000 mile service interval. So I said sure, and while he was at it he might as well do the state inspection, put the nostalgic type grips on, replace the brake fluid cover since it was leaking, a warranty issue, and either fix my battery operated oil dip stick which went south soon after I bought it, or replace it with the stock item.
He said that the bike would probably be ready by Thursday afternoon. I called on Friday morning asked if bike was ready and was told, "yep" just finishing it up now. Of course, we all know that's code for, "he hasn't started yet".  So I said I'd pick it up before their 6pm closing time. While I was on the phone he mentioned that everything was okay except the nostalgic grips were not available for the TBW (throttle by wire) bikes. I politely mentioned that I had asked the service guy if those were compatible with the TBW bike and, of course, he had said they were.
My wife drops me off at about 3:30pm and the guy at the counter asks me if I had already paid for the tire as he's tallying up my invoice. I hadn't paid for it and said so, adding that it must be a New Year's complimentary item. He says well it's not on the invoice expecting me to understand what that means. He then starts a phone conversation with someone back in the Parts Department and after a while finally decides to go look at the bike. When he returns he says that they hadn't put the tire on. I just dejectedly say, "that's the only reason I brought the bike in for".  He wondered out-loud if it could be done before 6pm as he looked at the serviceman that worked on my bike. He got one of those blank stares that says, sure it can be done by 6pm but what fool do you think is gonna do it. In reality, he never spoke. After another longer wait the counter guy tells me that the Metzeler is not in stock and it would take a week for it to come in. By this time I'm trying not to be an SOB just two days before New Year's Eve so I just tell the guy to get my bike because I wasn't wanting to leave it for more than a week. I really wanted to ask why they didn't check to see if the tire was in stock when I dropped it off, but figured that would only frustrate me even more so I didn't ask the obvious.
By the time I get home I notice that they didn't fix or replace the brake fluid cap as was on the work order or the dipstick. So then for the "coup de grace" I decided to look at the state inspection sticker, you guessed it, no new sticker.
Like Timmy said in the movie "Sandlot", 'I blame myself for underestimating the beast and going about this all wrong'. 
Of course, I didn't get out of there without paying about $440 for the 40K Service. Now the constant question that gnaws at me is, 'what are the odds of they actually doing what's on the checklist for the 40K service?' Gotta admit that the odds are heavily tilted towards the 'no way' side. 
Now I must admit that I'm just letting off steam; all in all my dealer is good and I must admit that they, especially the Service Manager has gone out of his way to make things right and I'm sure this won't be an exception.  Let's just chalk it up to holiday blues and better days will come my poor bike's way.  Anyway, Happy New Year!

20,000 and 40,000 Mile Maintenance
change oil and filter
clean magnetic drain plug change primary chain case fluid
clean magnetic drain plug change transmission lubricant,
clean magnetic drain plug lubricate the following:
front brake lever, throttle & cables, speedometer cable, clutch control cable and lever, jiffy stand, tour pack and saddlebag hinges and latches, shift lever, brake pedal, steering head fittings pivot shaft service and re-torque - flh - flt - fxr inspect and lubricate detachable windshield bushings inspect air cleaner, service as needed
test battery voltage & charging system output tighten battery connections, 
check electrolyte on wet cells check lighting & horn for proper operation check and adjust primary drive chain
check and adjust clutch and cable freeplay inspect engine stabilizers and mounts inspect fuel valve, lines and fittings for leaks 
clean tappet screen on big twin evo models 
replace spark plugs
check and re-torque critical fasteners 
inspect tires, tread depth & adjust pressure check wheels, 
inspect brake pads and discs for wear check and adjust rear belt check shock absorbers check air suspension for pressure and operation inspect oil and brake lines and fittings for leaks inspect brake fluid level and condition check engine idle speed and adjust as necessary check & adjust operation of throttle and enricher check ignition timing & vacuum hose on carbed evo big twin check cruise control operation
replace fuel injection filter
road test