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Coupla Random Stories

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I learned to ride a motorcycle when I was 12, when I traded a box of bicycle parts for a non-working '70s DT80 that my parents never thought I'd be able to make run. It was summertime and I was mechanical, and lo and behold, I got it started and rode it all that summer. Had two wrecks. One broken bone, a pipe burn, brake lever stuck in my leg, that kinda thing. But that summer we rode that little motorcycle into the ground. I never rode one again until 30+ years later. My dad retired and my mom let him get a motorcycle as a retirement gift. He'd call me every once in a while and tell me about some ride he went on, and he'd always end with, "you know, Josh, if you had a motorcycle we could go ride together". And after a year of hearing about that, I finally got one. Again, I think my wife was shocked I ever got it running.

The old GS500 was a project from the start, a lot more than I was hoping for. One day when I finally got the carburetors sorted enough to make it run, my dad and I had planned our first real ride. I had ridden my GS around the block in the neighborhood a few times practicing after doing the MSF class, but never more than a mile or two mostly because it wouldn't run. I was riding the short route from my house in Cedar Park to my parents' place in Leander and the bike just died when going to shift gears and wouldn't start back up. I called my dad and he brought his trailer to come pick it up, but then it started! So I tried to ride it to his house, got within a block, it would only run if you kept it above about 6k rpm. We had to haul it home on the trailer. I finally found my wits' end and took it to a shop that I hoped to build a relationship with. We were planning to ride together to the Harvest Classic in October, and this was in August when I brought the bike to the shop in hopes it would be ready to take to Luckenbach. No such luck. Turns out it had bent valves and I went all in for a top end rebuild which ended up costing nearly 2x what they estimated and probably 3x what the bike was worth, and it was about three months overdue. Finally picked up the bike when it was "fixed" and it died on the ride home, less than two miles. Turns out the geniuses left the petcock vacuum line unhooked. I made it home on PRI, fixed this, also discovered they had one carb pilot screw in all the way and the other one out four turns so once I got the carbs straightened out, and then found the cam chain cover was only on finger tight, and whatever other stuff they failed to do right, the bike was actually kind of OK.

I rode the old GS a whole lot, rode as much as possible. Couldn't get enough of riding a motorcycle. Then I realized, hey I am a reasonably successful guy in my middle 40s, why am I riding a $900 motorcycle? Every time I got off of it I felt like I should be delivering a pizza. Right about then we actually made it riding to the next year's Harvest Classic and the bike died while in Luckenbach. Dead battery, or so I thought. Jump pack got me home and then I replaced the battery, which wasn't the issue, finally rebuilt the starter, and then it was sort of reliable. One day my dad came over to meet me for a ride, and while I was running the bike and getting my gloves and helmet on, we noticed the tail light flickering, and when I got the seat off the wires from the regulator/rectifier were on fire. Awesome. So we didn't do that ride, and I learned a lot about this bike's electrics over the next days.

Finally I got fed up and bought myself a decent motorcycle, my Bonneville. So that next year my dad and I decided we were not only riding to the Harvest Classic, but we were going to camp. Well, sort of. We were going to set up a tent as a sort of home base, and rent a hotel in Fredricksburg because, well, who wants to camp? Not me. So we loaded up my Bonneville and his Honda Shadow and headed out. It was super cold. We were thankful for a traffic stoppage on 29 near Burnet because the wind stopped freezing us and we could put our hands on the sides of the cylinders to warm them. Once we got rolling again I noticed gobs of fuel leaking from my dad's bike and we stopped to find a burst fuel hose. We made a duct tape repair on the shoulder of 29 then limped into Burnet and got a piece of fuel hose and some hose clamps at Autozone and fixed it "right" in the parking lot, a fix that's holding to this day over two years later.

Just a few months ago I wrecked the Bonneville and in the time between when I healed up and when the Triumph's tank came back from the paint shop, I dusted off the old GS and tried to ride it a bit more. Now the bike won't idle, dies at stop lights. I did one ride with my dad with it this way, nursing the throttle at stops. Second ride we went out it was just like old times. Bike died at Cypress Creek Rd. and 183 stop light, I pushed it onto the sidewalk, it wouldn't start back up, and then we managed to jump it and get it running again and I rode it home trying to keep the revs up all the way. It will barely run. Who knows why. I decided not to ride again until the Triumph was back together, which was thankfully soon.

In all of this I have learned that Triumph makes a very reliable motorcycle but I don't have a ton of faith in Honda and Suzuki. I also learned that I enjoy tinkering with motorcycles but not when I have to rely on them to get me from one place to another. I have unfortunately become quite an expert on these CV carbs and I still can't seem to make my old Suzuki run right.
 

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I have had excellent results with Honda and Suzuki. That said, I didn't but them as basket cases, I bought them new. We did get a new GS 500 as a first bike for a friend. The motor lasted all of maybe 7500 miles before the timing belt broke and destroyed the top end. We replaced the motor completely with one from another bike. That one knocked something fierce and they took it back. The second motor worked great. The bike was eventually sold to another new rider that put a bunch of miles on it. I had an SV650S and a Vstrom 650, both basically the same motor. They were rock solid. Our friend that rode the little GS replaced it with an almost new SV650S identical to the one we had. A friend was loaning it to her while the GS500 was being fixed. The SV650S was finally totaled by the insurance company after a MINOR low side because it had 77K miles on it and the cost of body parts was more than the bike was worth. They gave her $3500 for it and I told her to deposit that check as fast as possible before they changed their minds! I put just over 100K miles on two VFR 800s without so much as a hiccup (both bought new as well).

When buying used, not everyone takes care of their bikes and the problems are not always obvious. Unless you trust the seller, there is always a risk.

It is cool that you and your Dad are getting to spend time riding together. That lasted less than a year for me and my Dad because of an accident he had. It was pretty bad, he was 61 at the time, and Mom put down the proverbial foot. He made a full recovery, but it was the end of his short riding career. I envy those guys that get to spend time riding with their Moms, Dads, and/or wives. My wife used to ride and we rode together all the time... then kids. She is fine with me still riding though, so that's not a friction point at least.
 
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I was sort of teasing about Honda and Suzuki. I actually put about 6k basically trouble free miles on my Suzuki once I got it sorted, but once I realized I was going to ride regularly, I decided a main motorcycle that was not 30 years old was warranted. Now almost all of the issues with my GS are due to disuse. And to be totally fair, when I bought the Triumph, with only 6k on it, I immediately spent more on upgrades than all I had ever spent on repairs for the GS. I treat this Suzuki like a worthless dog and I treat the Triumph like a thoroughbred.

That said, my dad's Honda is about the same age and mileage as my Triumph, but the Triumph smokes it on reliability as well as ease of repair. I think this is mostly due to two things. Number one, carburetors. The Honda has typical carburetor issues, but it is compounded by twin carbs crammed between the cylinders where they are anything but easy to get to. The other thing is that I am very sensitive to the condition and reliability of my Triumph and I spare no expense making it right. But my dad doesn't spent the same time or money keeping his Honda tip top.

My dad had never really asked me to do anything with him, like going fishing or playing golf. I figured if he was actually asking, I should take him up on it. Glad I did. We've had some fun trips and spent a lot of time together working on motorcycles too, and my brother even joins in some.
 
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The worst bikes I have owned that weren’t *** bikes to start with were all Honda’s and all fairly new at the time when I owned them , like less than 5 years new . the best have been Dago bikes , the only failure on the Beta is a failed gas valve that cost 42 bucks to replace . It’s 10 years old now The ducati had a broken rubber mount for the dash unit when I bought it new , replaced with one for a buck from WW granger . The Cagivas do have some issues now but they are 20 years old , motors are just fine but other stuff needs attention .
 
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I know Honda has a reputation of being solid and reliable, but I'm not sold. My dad bought his Shadow with less than 2500 miles on it, and it needed immediate work on the carbs just to run. He hired a shop to do this, and they screwed a bunch of stuff up. Now I think he has about 11-12K on it just like my Triumph, and we pulled the carbs and rebuilt them not long ago. Then it had another issue where it almost didn't get us home from Marble Falls when we did an all day ride on Father's Day. Bike basically refused to idle. It turned out to be gunk in the tank. I just don't know what causes this kind of thing. He meticulously runs ethanol-free fuel in it and keeps everything clean and in good shape.

My Suzuki was a basketcase when I bought it, which I didn't know at the time. It was over 25 years old and is what is considered by many to be a beginner's bike, so it had likely had a long series of beginner owners who didn't care for it and let things get bad without proper maintenance or repairs along the way before I got it. This is how carbon buildup on the valves caused them to bend and eventually required a very premature top end rebuild. But the starter should have lasted more than 20K. And the wiring shouldn't have melted itself down. These are design flaws. I've gone through the entire bike and sorted everything by either remedying design problems or doing the right repairs. But it remains that nearly all of the parts on this thing are now 28+ years old with a lifetime of abuse on them and I'm always waiting for that next thing to fail, either because it was never designed to last three decades to begin with or because it's deteriorated from neglect.

The more I own and work on motorcycles, the more convinced I am that poor quality repair from professional shops is half of the problem with them. Both my dad and I each used different shops in Cedar Park and had horrible outcomes both times. Seems like unless you have a Harley, nobody knows how to work on your motorcycle around here. Perhaps some Euro bikes get better treatment because there are enough of a gang of well-to-do enthusiasts to support a quality shop. Paying $900 for a top end rebuild on a $900 Suzuki seems extravagant but paying $900 for an exhaust system for a $12,000 Ducati seems totally ordinary.

The common theme though for stuff breaking on our bikes is the carburetors. My dad has three motorcycles, the most recent he bought is a 2012 or 2013 TU250X. It had been down and scared the owner out of using it some years back, and there was extremely ill advised "rat bike" type cosmetic mods on it, he bought it in sort of non-running state for $600. We quickly nursed it back to health with a new battery, new tires, unbending some bent parts and finding a stock seat to put back on it plus pulling from my growing cache of extra parts in my garage for things like an unbent handlebar and the like. After doing a Saturday morning's worth of tinkering with the PC2 that was in it, I managed to get it to run well and now it's by far my dad's most reliable and usable motorcycle. All because of one major thing: fuel injection. His DR200SE is always a pain to get running but it's because he doesn't use it every day or even once a week, so gas gets stale in the carbs and who knows what else. And the Honda is frustratingly unreliable because it really should be great but even though he rides it at least once a week it seems at least once a year a big no-run situation visits it and we have to pull the tank and the carbs off and scratch our heads for a while. Meanwhile that little TUX just putts right along. Sure it's got terrifyingly low power and soft suspension but at least it runs 100% of the time.

Ditto my Triumph. I know so many people don't trust FI and feel way more comfortable with carbs because they think they're more simple, but let me tell you there's nothing more complicated than a well sorted carbed motorcycle that just won't run for who knows why, and nothing more simple than the FI bike that just plain starts and runs every single time without ever turning a screw.

And that's why my GS500 sits there and doesn't get used. It's a hoot to ride and I'd love to use it more. With the insane gearing and the light adventure type conversion it would be great for me to use for these bad back road rides we do all the time. It's comfortable and requires your full attention. I love riding it. But it just won't run. Seems like every time I want to ride it I have to first pull the tank off, pull the carbs, clean them thoroughly, then spend half a day dialing the pilot mixture back in just so I can get it to make a trip to the grocery store and back.
 

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Carbs have been MUCH more trouble since they started putting the alcohol in gas. Prior to that, I had very few carb issues. After that, non stop carb issues if the bike sits for even a few weeks between rides without draining the carbs. I have one bike now with a carb, my 2010 KTM 530 EXC. I would love to replace it with a KTM 500 EXC or something similar with the FI, but as little as I get to ride it nowadays, I just can't justify the expense of replacing it. The only other bikes with carbs are my kid's dirt bikes. We drain the carbs after EACH ride. They will usually fire right up once the gas is turned back on. I am bad about forgetting to put any kind of stabilizer in the gas. But, even when I have, like on my old KLR 650 or my KTM 530, it really doesn't seem to help all that much. So far, I've not had problems with any of my FI bikes, of which I have had 6 (Hondas and BMWs) and now a Yamaha XT250 for my daughter.
 
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Totally agree about the carbs with modern fuel. And it's not just motorcycles. Literally every year I replace the carburetor on my Echo string trimmer and my lawn mower just to get them to run for a season. And I use ethanol-free fuel exclusively in the lawn mower, and that premix $5/quart TruFuel for the trimmer.

I don't think it's JUST modern fuel. I think it's that the quality of the parts themselves is poor now compared with 30 years ago. There was a time when a Mikuni carburetor and all of the replacement and rebuild parts were made in Japan from known good materials for along lifetime. But now it's nearly impossible to find anything except low quality stuff made in China (nothing against making stuff in China...). It's economies of scale. There's far less demand for these parts now than there was in 1990 so to keep the prices low enough for people to actually buy them they have to be made in China from substandard materials.

And compounding this is a dwindling number of mechanics who actually know how to repair them. When I was 12 and I fixed that DT80, I walked around the corner to a neighbor's house and got help from a guy who had a small engine repair shop. This made it possible for a 12 year old kid to fix a 2-stroke motorcycle with nothing as fancy as duct tape or baling wire. But nowadays when you take your lawn mower to the small engine repair shop, they just order a new carb. They don't know how to fix it. And likewise when I take my motorcycle to a shop, they THINK they know how to fix it because some Youtube guy told them how to fix something some time but in reality they don't have a clue what they are doing.

I think we often look back fondly and forget the bad side of most things, though. I had a '72 Datsun 240Z with twin SU-type CV carbs. I literally worked on this car nearly every weekend. Sure, it was reliable. But to keep it running right required a valve adjustment about every 6K and a carb adjustment which often included damper oil change and tuning at nearly the same intervals. So every other oil change I'd do carb adjustment, check/clean/gap the plugs and adjust the valves. It was easy to do and kept the car running perfectly but it did require tinkering. After that car I had a 2000 Mazda Miata that required basically absolutely no maintenance besides fluid changes until I replaced the engine with a low-miles block and had the head redone during a full restoration at 150K. We're just not used to doing the same kind of work.

I mean my dad said back in the 70s he carried a spark plug socket with him when riding his motorcycle because it was so common to foul the plug and it wouldn't start. It was just routine to pull the plug, dry it, put it back, then start.
 

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Part of the issue with the carbs on things like weed eaters/blowers, etc,... is that it is just cheaper and quicker to replace the whole thing with a new one than to spend the time getting parts and trying to fix an old one. I took my weed eater to a local guy and he had a HUGE tub of nothing but old carbs that he'd pulled of and replaced. I asked about it and he said they weren't worth fixing. Less than 10 minute to pull and replace with a new carb versus who knows how long tinkering with the old one trying to get it to work. Seems like a no brainer :shrug:

I have one of those gas powered Echo blowers. It ran great for one season. I tried fixing the carb, but no matter what I do, it runs like crap. The guy I mentioned above won't touch them, not even to just replace the carb. I finally got a Stihl blower and it works MUCH better.
 
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Good story mr72. Glad you and your Dad can get out together. AND glad you got a bike that can make the whole trip...
..because really, who wants to be 'that guy' LOL.

Getting a brick and mortar shop to work on an old (carb) bike will soon be a thing of the passed IMHO. If it isn't already. The bill paying money just isn't there and most of the time you just tick off a customer with a sub par repair. Best if you know how to do the fixes on your own older machine...Hmmm sounds like the good ol' days.
The closer we got to the FI age the more and more complicated Keihin and others made carbies. Add fuel that attracts H2o and 'whatta ya' know'
bikes that won't run after the winter.
I have about a dozen carb-ed bikes (most 4cyl. Goldwings, talk about carb issues) and it's not just the carbs that suffer steel tanks rust and pit. I always have some race fuel in house to add to bikes that I know will be sitting for a while. Of course the best thing is not to let them SIT !!:rider:

HOTT (end ramble)
 
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