She’s a DIY kind of rider, but there are times when even Nancy Irwin is stuck with a problem she can’t fix on her own. That’s when she turns to the pros.
Tap smartly. That’s what the instructions in the shop manual say. And if that doesn’t work, “some other method” must be used. I think the other method is to beat it with a sledgehammer, same as we want to do at times to computers. In my case, the forks won the battle and I was stuck. There are many reasons to take your bike to a mechanic, and I could list all of them and more on the day I nearly got beat.
I was attempting some pretty basic work with my old BMW enduro Casper set up in my snuggly-heated garage. I needed to replace the drive shaft boot and had already cheated an extra year out of it by using a Permatex product that coated the cracks. And I needed to rebuild Casper’s front end, which has steering head bearings with a nice notch that holds the bike going forward in perfect direction. We had been riding true (I periodically make a hands-free check) so I didn’t realize Casper’s forks were bent until I noticed that the gap between the wheel and the fork brace was somewhat different on each side. Hmm. Can this be the result of a run-in I had with a taxi last year that knocked me off my ride? I thought the crash bars took the brunt. Guess I’m not very experienced at being hit by a car.
And then there were wheel bearings to change, and a small leak in the gas tank. The leak was easy to fix. Andrew Charters at Motorrad BMW directed me to a place called Gas Tank Renu, located in the far northwest of Toronto, where the friendly staff repairs all sorts of gas tanks, mostly big trucks and cars. You can drive in and they will drop your tank and exchange it with a repaired one from stock. Inside the shop, there’s a big wet vat where the sealed tank is dropped then pressurized to find the leak. The tank is bead blasted on the outside, problem spots are brazed or welded, then coated with some shiny black. In the case of the few bike tanks I saw there, they come out undamaged on the outside, but with a coat of white internally. Casper’s tank got what looks like a lead weld along one seam on the inside where it was leaking, while the outside looked perfect—it was even polished!
I pulled the rear wheel, removed the rear shock, and sent it off to Works in California because the bumper had begun to disintegrate after nearly 20 years of service. What a shock! (Good that I kept the original to use in the meantime.) Then I unbolted the drive shaft and pulled the swingarm slightly back so I could remove and replace the rubber boot. The job needed new bolts and a special service tool to torque them down. For this, a friend visited me with a tool in his pocket. Convincing the rubber boot back on was a trick that took numerous tries, one dinner, one sleep, and one social visit, but I did it! Fortified with success, I moved to the front end.
The wheel came off easily, while the fork tubes came out of the triple tree with little difficulty and a long bar on my ratchet. But the fork stanchions were impossible to remove! I tried everything to get the bolt that was spinning in the damper out of the fork leg, with no luck. I tried and tried. Eventually, I called 109 Cycle for help. Lucky for me, a long time character in the motorcycle industry answered the phone. Art Newman welcomed me to drop by. Once there, owner Peter Volk introduced me to firefighter and part-time staffer Danielle Alosinac, and then disappeared with my forks. When he returned with them five minutes later he assured me I couldn’t have done the job on my own, that it required a commercial grade compressor backing up an air gun. I slipped away with a smile on my face, grateful that they gave me a few minutes of time, which changed my world. I went home happy!
I laid my treasured forks (the ones I was ready to beat in frustration) on my workbench and proceeded to take them apart. Success. It was such a triumph getting the tubes out that I didn’t feel so bad when I rolled them on a marble slab and learned they were both slightly bent. One was already leaking and had a pit the size of a pinhead along with plenty of score lines—25 years is a lot of service. But $227 each, plus shipping? Gulp. So now I’ve got two really nice extension bars that will help undo resistant nuts and bolts in my future. I might even give one away.
I could not have done this project without the incredible help of Gregg Templeton, parts manager at MAX BMW in New York State. They have a parts diagram for my bike on their website. I was able to go over everything I needed, bit by bit, and order. This is amazing. In Toronto, they mail a letter by carrier pigeon to Germany and then parts come by sailboat. Okay, so BMW dealers are not in the business of vintage bikes. But at MAX’s, they tell me they’ve either got it in stock or can access it in two days from another location. My bike is considered vintage now, and am I ever grateful to get parts! Gregg has owned a bike like mine, among others, and is very knowledgeable. He gave me vital information on how to do unusual things or where to purchase a special service tool to remove the steering head bearing races. What an incredible resource.
Next week I’ll drive over the border to pick up my parts because shipping something that heavy internationally is prohibitively expensive. I’ll make sure to have some fun while I’m there. (It’s whitewater rafting season.) After that, I’ll be in a rush to ride. I know I’ll have problems putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, but I plan to enjoy the process. I’ve already “invited” one friend to join me.
There’s pleasure in taking things apart, cleaning years of grunge out from inaccessible places, finding bits of rubber deteriorating or rusting bolts that need replacing. As an infrequent mechanic, I couldn’t do it without the support of the many bikers who continue to help me year after year. And guess what? It’s fun to play in my garage!