Saturday, June 3, 2017

1200S: service time.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The mid-90s Sportster is the best kept secret in motorcycling.
It is a solid, smooth and dependable machine that can easily run for 20-odd years of constant use with only the most basic maintenance; this is proof that it is a remarkable motorcycle.

What I'm doing here is just a regular service, nothing special.
With the engine warm and adrenal glands still pumping, I quickly drain both the engine and transmission oils:

There is no engine plug to be wrenched out, no washers or gaskets to replace. All you do is pull out the dedicated drain pipe and you're done. Easy.

I also remove the oil filter with this nifty tool and clean the mounting flange:

Why don't all oil filters have the same "fluting"? It would make life a lot easier: one tool, fits all filters.
This is the time to inspect the oil pressure sensor intake point and make sure it's thoroughly clean.
Do not overlook this component on any machine that's clever enough to have one, as it could mean the difference between spotting a problem early enough to save the engine, or total and utter mechanical mayhem.

A new filter goes on (primed as much as possible and with a little oil smeared on the rubber gasket as always) and fresh engine oil is added to the tank. Don't forget to secure the drain pipe before you do this!
Top up as needed after the first short ride and you're done. By far the easiest oil change procedure I've ever known.

Now, that said, there is something else you need to do here, which is very important: after you've replaced the oil filter and filled the oil tank with fresh oil, and before you run the engine, you must allow a small amount of new oil to drain out of the drain pipe once again. This is to avoid any air bubbles forming within the lubrication circuit, which could then potentially reach the oil pump and cause cavitation. Cavitation is bad for anything spinning in a liquid, it doesn't matter if it's a food processor mixing pancake batter, or a nuclear-powered submarine hunting those damn commies in the dark depths of the abyss; or an oil pump in an engine.

Some people may get all upset about the fact that you can't flush all of the oil from the crankcases (because there is no drain plug in the crankcase itself) and that there will always be some old oil that remains in the engine. First of all, it's clearly not a problem, but if that really bothers you, there is a thing called "the scavenger" that allows you to waste some perfectly good oil and possibly damage some hoses, just to satisfy your OCD. Whatever.

I've been using the extended version of the oil filter (the standard item otherwise comes flush with the crankcase and is much neater, visually) because it carries and cools a little extra oil, which can't be a bad thing. It also makes access for removal much easier.

Both the standard and extended filters are also available in flashy chrome. Why Harley, why?!

As for the transmission fluid, it is a mineral based oil that is shared between the gearbox and primary chain. Does that mean that dust particles from the clutch end up in the gearbox? I don't know, but the whole system clearly works a treat, as primary, clutch and gearbox have always been very dependable on my previous Sportster and on this one (yes, there is a problem with this particular gearbox, we'll get to that).

Before you drain the transmission oil it's probably best to wait 10 to 15 minutes to let it all collect at the bottom of the case.
There is a drain plug at the bottom of the transmission case that you can undo with a conventional ⅝ wrench, or with an allen key.
With the drain plug cleaned and back in, I put the bike on my trusty jack to keep it level. Incidentally, that drain plug has a magnet in it, so I really wouldn't worry about any shavings reaching the gearbox under normal operation. I found just a negligible amount in this case, all seems in order.
As I watched the transmission oil collect in the catch pan, I noticed what at first I thought was some emulsion, not unheard of for this type of thing. However, towards the end it became obvious that this was just plain water. How did it get in there? Probably through the primary chain inspection cover, which I found wasn't seating properly. Yet another reminder to always go over every inch of a second-hand motorcycle: you're gonna find something to fix.

At this point you can then remove the clutch cover and slowly refill with fresh oil through the primary chain inspection cover; you'll know you've reached the level when you can see it at the bottom of the clutch basket. If you decide to do this, be aware that there is a large rubber seal for the clutch cover and you should have a replacement ready in case yours is starting to look a bit tired (though chances are it will still be perfectly fine). Also, be careful when undoing or refitting the torx head bolts: surprisingly, these don't have the same bulletproof quality to them that almost anything else on this bike does.
To be fair, you could simply drain the oil, and pour one quart in through the small inspection cover like I did without bothering to check the level. I'm sure it's spot on, the engineers who made this thing knew what they were doing.

While you're at it, check the tension on the primary chain; in my case the primary chain had just the right amount of slack so I left it alone.

Just look at that luxurious hardwood floor, what a garage I have! (come on, it's linoleum.)

And speaking of engineers and primary chains, etc. you may have noticed more than a passing resemblance between the triplex primary chains of a Norton Commando and an evolution Sportster, as well as their diaphragm spring clutches. I once read somewhere that they were designed by the same engineers, first for Norton, and later for Harley-Davidson. Cool huh?
This may sound blasphemous to some (my dad included, probably!) but I've often thought that the evolution Sportster is what the Norton Commando would have been, if it had continued to be in production. Ah, to think of what could have been...
Anyway, back to the service.

I highly recommend this video on the matter, there is more than just practical how-to in there:

Next up, the front brake: I mentioned that when I took a test ride the first time I went to check out the bike, I noticed a problem with the front brake and I had asked the dealer if they could sort it out before I collected the bike.

Because the lever had a huge amount of "travel" before the pads actually engaged, it just felt like the system needed to be bled and refilled, nothing crazy.

The guy said they would take care of it, but when I went to collect the bike they hadn't done anything, and started giving me excuses like "oh, it'll fix itself once you start using it". Bullshit.

So, keeping in mind that if you want something done right ya gotta do it yourself... I went ahead and did this myself. Unfortunately I don't have any photos as I was pressed for time when I did it, so you'll have to take my word for it.

The inside of the reservoir was just filthy, it looked like a swamp, with algae and other weird vegetation growing in it. There were reptiles and assorted amphibians, buzzing dragonflies and spiders, all living in this thriving microcosmos, that should actually have been a front brake reservoir. The level was low and the brake fluid itself just looked unhealthy.
So, using a Mytivac handpump, I took my time and fully drained the lines, spent ages cleaning out all the gunk, then refilled with fresh DOT 5 fluid.

Whereas most disc brake systems you'll come across "run" on DOT 4 fluid, Harley-Davidson uses the silicone-based DOT 5. It's harder to come by, it's more expensive, but it does not absorb moisture, can run hotter than DOT 4 and does not damage paint if accidentally spilled.

I like the Mytivac as I find it easier to control than an air-compressor assisted type; it works perfectly and generates an impressive vacuum.

With the reservoir thoroughly cleaned, fresh fluid and the lines properly bled, I knew that part was done, yet the problem persisted. If this sounds familiar and you're having the same problem, the culprit is likely to be that the calipers have accumulated dirt on the pistons, which can no longer retract fully, or move in and out as they should.

A quick fix is to spray brake cleaner from a high-pressure can, you'll probably end up using all of it but it is worth it. Have a look at this video to get an idea of what's happening:

If you have time, it's better to take the calipers completely apart and give everything a good clean, inspect all components and replace any that might be damaged.

In my case the brake cleaner definitely helped with the pistons, but the real problem is with the two retaining pins for the brake pads (not to mention the fact that when I took them off I discovered that the pads had not been fitted properly and that's also why they were binding):

Under normal circumstances all these pins do is hold the pads in place and don't interfere with their movement, however as you can see below, mine were showing some wear so I cleaned them with some very fine sandpaper until I got them nice and smooth. The bottom one is as I found them, the top one is after I cleaned them:

You need a ¼in. 12 point (or triple square) socket for this, just in case you're wondering what size the pad pins are.

With everything clean and back in place, the front brake now works properly and much better than before, I'm happy with the result.

I also checked something else just to put my mind at ease, given the shadiness demonstrated by the dealership; the front brake master cylinder is marked 11/16, this is specific to the 1200S that has twin disc brakes. Single disc models carry a more relaxed 9/16. That of course all refers to the size of the bore and piston:

There is still one problem on this motorcycle, and that's the gearbox. Specifically, something that many other Sportster owners have come across (and fixed!): the symptom is an unpleasant, sometimes violent juddering or jerking, accompanied by a gut-wrenching clunking and grinding noise just as you take off in first gear.
As soon as you shift into second (and all other gears) it's fine, smooth, predictable. Downshifting is equally fine and, incidentally, there is nothing wrong with the clutch: no slipping or dragging.
So, this is strictly a gearbox problem. 
Again, I had noticed this immediately during the test ride, told the dealer and asked them to fix it before I collected the bike. I was told that they had recently replaced fourth gear and that what I was feeling was simply the new gears "bedding in". 
What. The. Fuck.
I don't know what's more insulting, the obvious lies and lack of customer care, or the assumption that I wouldn't know what I'm talking about.
Never mistake a dealer for a friend, regardless of what they're selling; all they care about is getting your money.
Anyway, I haven't gone into it yet as I haven't had time, but what I suspect has happened here is that the dogs between 1st and 3rd on the countershaft have become worn and are no longer able to keep engagement when subjected to the insane amount of horsepower coming from the engine. Pardon me, motor.
There is no fix for this other than replacing the gears, so, I'll eventually get around to doing this.

Given the general lack of care shown by the dealership, I'm looking at everything I can reasonably get into, just in case I spot anything else that needs attention. Something that should never be overlooked is the spark plugs, especially on twin-spark motors like this one, where "the other" plug is, by necessity, a little harder to reach (even though on these "Thunderstorm" heads the engineering solution is as simple as it is brilliant). My friend the German had warned me about this, and said that they're often neglected precisely because they're hard to reach. All the more reasons to go check.
Off comes the tank, there's just no other way around it, but this is easy guys, this is not such a pain...

You need a proper deep-well spark plug socket to get at the plug's hex, obviously, and it would be preferable if it were one of those (like Honda's) that have a rubber insert to grab the spark plug and help you lift it out. However, this can be done just as easily with a piece of rubber pipe, again, not exactly hardship.
These are the plugs as I found them:

I'd say it's a good thing I checked, definitely time to replace them. Yes, one broke as I was trying to get it to budge. They were fucking TIGHT and I just cannot comprehend why anyone would apply that much torque to a spark plug in an aluminum head. Idiots!
This had already happened on my previous Sportster, although that was partly my fault for not having the correct socket, but still, ya gotta wonder what's going on there. The workshop manual does say to apply some lubricant (not motor oil) so I'm taking extra precautions and using a thin coat of anti-seize to hopefully avoid this sort of problem in the future.
Anyway, I have a strong suspicion that these were the original spark plugs and that they were never replaced at all. If that's the case, that's one more lie the dealer told me when he assured me that the bike had been serviced. Whatever, I knew full well what I was getting into, I just wanted the damn motorcycle and I knew I was going to do things myself and do them properly.

And here are all four new spark plugs in their fire-breathing glory:

The gap is supposed to be .040", I checked them with a feeler gauge and only had to adjust one very slightly, not bad for being straight outta the box.
I want to keep an eye on these, I'll check them again soon to make sure it's not too lean in there. What I'll probably do at some point is take the carburetter off the bike, give it a thorough clean and inspect everything.
And finally we can move on to the valve clearance; except that this awesome machine has freaking hydraulic lifters, so you never have to worry about this, how cool is that?


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