A little TLC makes a big difference

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IOL mot pic oct15 Motorcycle Maintenance 1

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Just like people, motorcycles respond sweetly to a little TLC. And, just as with people, the little things make the biggest difference.

The best thing about a brand new motorcycle is the silky-smooth movement of all the controls. With no resistance in any of the cables, levers or pedals, you can feel exactly what each is doing and apply it with absolute precision, riding more neatly - and sometimes more safely - than you can on an older bike, even one that you know really well.

While I've always known this - I've been privileged to ride a lot of new bikes over the years - I've never paid any thought as to why it should be so until I was forced to, which is also typical of most bikers. After all, if it's not broken, don't fix it, right?

Wrong.

My little red sports bike is only seven years old but, because I live in a city where climate change means every winter is colder, wetter and longer than the previous one, it's done rather more mileage on wet roads than most, albeit without any serious ill effects other than an embarrassing outbreak of rust on various nuts and bolts.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I picked up a starting problem. I'd turn the key and all the bike's systems would light up, I'd pull the clutch (there's a starter cut-out switch in the clutch-lever housing) and, sometimes, absolutely nothing would happen - not even a click.

Other times it would start normally, but the problem gradually became more recurrent until, one night, I had to slam the clutch lever in and out half a dozen times before the starter got the message - and I finally woke up to the fact that the problem lay in the clutch cut-out switch.

WAKE-UP CALL

The next day I stripped the clutch-lever housing for the first time in the bike's life (it's not mentioned in either the owner's handbook or the service requirements, so no blame attaches to the agents) and took nearly a teaspoonful of almost-dry mud out from behind the lever.

A quick squirt of contact cleaner soon had the cut-out switch working reliably, but the rest of the components looked even worse.

So I scrubbed all the parts with a toothbrush and commercial motocross solvent, polished some rust off the pivot pin, squirted lubricant through the cable, applied a dab of heavy-duty grease to the pivot bushing, put it all back together and carefully readjusted the lever play just as at the pre-delivery inspection seven years ago.

All of which took about an hour - it's not exactly rocket science - but the result was an eye-opener. Suddenly my distinctly second-hand little road rocket had a clutch action that would put some new bikes I've ridden this year to shame, which only made me more conscious of just how gritty and imprecise the action of the other controls had become.

I spent the rest of a very long Sunday stripping every pedal, cable and lever on the bike, finding mud, rust and dried-out lubricant residue inside all of them. A squirt of lube down the cable and a dab of Vaseline on the right-hand handlebar soon had the twistgrip responding to my right hand as if the bike had suddenly come alive again.

Cleaning and greasing the linkages made the previously notchy and sometimes recalcitrant gearshift as crisp as breaking glass, and an (embarrassingly necessary) cleanup inside the pedal's pivot point got the rear brake working again after several months of very poor response without my even having to touch the hydraulics.

LIKE RIDING A BRAND NEW MACHINE

I remembered that there's another cut-out on the side-stand, so that came off as well to be flushed with contact cleaner (it was working, but very slowly and reluctantly) and quite a lot of de-rusting, cleaning and re-lubing went into the housing. The pivot bolt was so worn it had to be replaced - luckily it's a standard size and I had one in stainless steel.

Now the side-stand pops neatly out of the way with a precise little click, the brakes have enough extra bite that I've had to be careful of them in the rain (even though I haven't yet serviced the hydraulics), and the bike accelerates noticeably harder when I give it a handful - or am I giving it bigger handfuls because the throttle action is so smooth and precise?

It's like riding a brand-new machine, and I've found myself enjoying my daily commute even more than on the latest test bike, discovering all over again just why I bought this bike seven years ago.

In many ways a motorcycle is not so much a machine as a mechanical mistress, responding sweetly to a little TLC. And, just as with people, it's the little things that make the biggest difference.


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