Thursday, June 30, 2005

We have clearence, Clarence

Looked up the part number for the broken bolt, and called the local Kawasaki dealer. No joy: They don't stock it, but they can order it ($2.60). This wasn't going to work since it was the Thursday before a three-day weekend, and I wanted the bike for the next week, so I tried Lowe's and Home Depot after lunch. No luck there, either; Lowe's had metric flange bolts, but not the right size, and I think the Ho only had SAE. I didn't know the exact size, though I had a hint from, but the ones I did find were definitely too large.

Went home, got the unbroken bolt, and went to the local True Value, and they had them: Stainless steel and only $0.50. I bought two. The flange turned out, upon closer examination, to be a bit larger, but this turned out not to matter; it may even be better.

Installed the cam chain tensioner and turned the engine a couple times by hand to make it do it's thing. Re-measured all the valve clearences. The exhaust valves are particularly difficult to measure, since they are on the far side of the engine, and there's stuff that gets in the way. In the end, I had to bend my feeler gauge to get the right angle. I have some tappet feeler gauges which are pre-bent, but they don't have enough precision for this bike; they are probably intended for something larger. Everything checks out within specs.

A thunderstorm blows in, so I'm calling it quits for the night. I'm taking the day off tomorrow to finish up. I still need to get some motor oil. With any luck at all, I should have it running tomorrow afternoon. Then I need to change the oil and filter, and the coolant. links for 2005-06-30


My parts finally arrived today. I had trouble paying with credit card at We (me and the customer service guy) believe it was a problem with their credit card authorization system. As most on-line payment systems do, it asks for the name on the credit card, in case it's different from the ship-to name, which was true in this case. We think that it may not be looking at this, so the card wouldn't authorize.

In an attempt to expedite the order, I used PayPal. This was a mistake: I don't keep much money in my PayPal account, so it had to do a bank transfer, which was scheduled to take three days. It took four, which meant it cleared on Friday, and the order didn't go out until Monday. Fortunately, UPS ground from the midwest to northeast Georgia only takes two days, and so I got them Wednesday, which is about nine days after I ordered them.

I start by reinstalling the exhaust. The repainted headers look pretty good. I clean up around the mating surfaces with a tiny high-speed wire wheel, slip on the new gaskets, slip the headers over the mounting studs, and thread in the lower mounting bolts to keep them in place. The nuts go for a swim in the rust remover. I bought new gaskets for the mufflers, but I don't think I need them. The mufflers are pretty easy to remove if I'm wrong.

Mistake #1: I forget to check if I could move some of the shims I was taking out to another lifter that needed them. I probably ordered two extra shims because of this. Mistake #2: When I first wrote down what new shims I needed, I went in the wrong direction. Since I needed more clearence, I needed a smaller shim but initially wrote down the next bigger shim. I fixed this before ordering, except in one case where I ended up writing down the original size instead of the smaller size. D'oh!

The first screwup saved me on the second: I was able to reuse one of the old shims. Eventually I may be able to reuse some the others, but the wrong one I got is as big as the largest shim already, so unless I need to reduce clearance, I probably won't be able to use it.

Installing the camshafts is a bitch. The exhaust cam is not too bad, as you can align it fairly easily to the top of the cylinder head. The intake cam is the tough one. There's slack in the timing chain at this stage, but not a whole lot. The drive gears on each camshaft like to interlock when you are trying to adjust the intake cam. Once you have it in there, you have to check alignment by counting chain links (34 pins) from top of the head at the exhaust side to the alignment mark on the gear of the intake side.

Then come the cam caps, secured by a total of 16 cap bolts, which must be torqued in sequence. The manual says a couple of the bolts are longer, but not in my case; I noticed this when I took them off. Final torque is 12 N-m, which is fairly light.

Next comes the cam chain tensioner, which attaches to the intake side of the block with two fairly long cap bolts. You have to tighten them gradually. As with the cam cap bolts, final torque is 12 N-m. One of them goes on fine. The other one turns and turns and just as starts to feel like it's tightening up, snap! suddenly it's loose again. My first thought was that I stripped threads in the block, which is a Very Bad Thing, but instead the bolt broke. I removed the other bolt and the tensioner and was left with half a bolt (now a stud) sticking out of the block. I used pliers to back it out without too much effort. I am sure I did not over-torque it.

In retrospect, I was quite fortunate that it broke when it did. If the tensioner loosened up while the bike was running, it could be a Very Bad Thing, as in a slipped -- or broken -- timing chain and broken valves and pistons, plus a seized engine. So while I have a broken bolt, at least it's broken when the bike isn't running.

This all happened just after midnight, so I'll have to try to get replacement bolts (I'll replace both to be safe) tomorrow/today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 links for 2005-06-29

  • The Dilbert Principle: The basic concept of the Dilbert Principle is that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management. This has not proved to be the winning strategy that you might think. ( )
  • Jon Stewart's ('84) Commencement Address | News: "I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place." ( )

Some G.W. Bush howlers

In W's speech to shore up support for the war in Iraq, he gave us some memorable quotes, but probably not in the way he intended. Highlighting is mine:

When the history of this period is written, the liberation of Afghanistan and the liberation of Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom. [Turning towards less freedom.]

After September 11, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult and that we would prevail. Well, it has been difficult and we are prevailing.

Our enemies are brutal, but they are no match for the United States of America, and they are no match for the men and women of the United States military. [We are way more brutal than they are.]

These are as good as, or better than, the classic, "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 links for 2005-06-28

Monday, June 27, 2005 links for 2005-06-27

  • TagCloud - Home: TagCloud is an automated Folksonomy tool. Essentially, TagCloud searches any number of RSS feeds you specify, extracts keywords from the content and lists them according to prevalence within the RSS feeds. Clicking on the tag’s link will display a list ( )

Thursday, June 23, 2005 links for 2005-06-23

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Procrastination pays off again

Yesterday I got to the Kawasaki dealer too late to get the shims I needed, so I stopped by Sears and got a micrometer. This turned out to be a good thing, because several of my measurements with the vernier calipers were wrong.

I spent a couple hours making a valve clearance worksheet (see previous post), and then I re-measured all the shims.

Here's a tip: To remove the lifters and shims, use one of those telescoping magnets. I did this the first time, and about halfway through the intake lifters, I decided I could pull one out with my fingers, which I did. And the shim fell down inside the cylinder head. Fortunately, the head is aluminium, so it was easy to fish out with the magnet. If it had fallen down into the timing chain, I would have had real trouble. When you use a good magnet to pull the lifter, it tends to bring the shim with it. Even if it doesn't, you can still easily remove the shim with the magnet.

I said those little bastards would be expensive, and they are: $9.11 for a piece of metal the size of an asprin. At least, that is the price from Cycle-Parts. You need to have a minimum order of $100 to order with Cycle-Parts, and with five shims and some assorted gaskets and a couple oil filters, I managed to reach that level. Since I can't use any of the parts until next weekend, and they have a 4-5 day turnaround, that's probably what I'm going to use.

I've been looking at getting a new exhaust system, since the old one started to rust badly, and the left muffler got a bit dinged up from the crash. Vance&Hines makes a 4-into-2-into-1 system, with nickle-plated headers, that lists for $489. Just for the hell of it, I looked up new OEM headers: $589, and that didn't include mufflers. I also got idea (much too late in the day on a weekend) to get the old headers powder-coated; I'd guess that would cost $100-200.

The last option was high-temperature header paint, so I went to Advance Auto Parts to look around. The local Advance seems to have a better selection than the local AutoZone. In fact, they had motorcycle oil filters. I got some phosphoric acid-based rust neutralizer (Right Stuff, Formula #3000) and high-temperature exhaust paint (Dupli-Color). I also stopped by Wal-Mart for a spray bottle and found a 1.2 L pressurized garden sprayer (RL Flo-Master). Got the manifold off without too much trouble, and then spent 30-45 minutes with a wire wheel cleaning it.

Right Stuff is definitely named correctly: It seems to be doing a great job, though I am going to do a second application. And the RL Flo-Master sprayer is an awesome sprayer, too. I was done applying the rust remover in about two minutes. I took a couple minutes to rinse the sprayer, but it looks all plastic, so it shouldn't be affected.

Weather permitting, I'll paint the headers tonight.

ZX-6 Valve Clearance Worksheet

I made a valve clearance worksheet for the ZX-6 using Inkscape. It's in SVG format, so if your browser can't display it, get a better browser. OK, SVG is not enabled by default in the standard builds, so here's a fucking PDF version.

It's hard to find metric measurement tools in the US. Feeler gauges seem to universally have both SAE and metric units, but in reality, the blades tend to be made in units of 0.001", so they don't fall on nice, neat metric boundaries. My vernier calipers did not have enough precision so I did get a micrometer, but it is only calibrated in inches, and there were no metric ones available. You'd think with the number of foreign cars and motorcycles in this country that you could get some decent metric measuring tools, but no. (Wrenches and such are not an issue, of course.) Thus, the worksheet has all the clearances in both mm and in.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Friday, June 17, 2005

Point of no return

Took the camshafts out so I could check the thickness of the shims. They look a lot like steel Altoids, only a bit smaller, and crunchier. Each shim is supposed to have a two-digit number which tells you what the part number is and thus how thick it is. About half of them did not have numbers or were illegible. The number looks like it's printed on with a dot-matrix printer; I don't think it's laser-etched. Fortunately, I have some vernier calipers and was able to measure their thickness. I'm not sure this is very accurate, since I can only measure to 0.1 mm, and the shims come in 0.05 mm increments. I think I'm going to have to get a micrometer to be sure. However, in all cases, the clearance is too small, and I think if I end up getting 0.05 mm too big, I'll still be within tolerances. I just know these little bastards are not going to be cheap, and I need five of them.

A truce with the editor

I still dislike the Blogger editor, but I've figured out how to make it do what I want:

To start a new paragraph, enter <p>, which is just your standard HTML start tag.

Switching back and forth from Edit HTML to Compose makes it display correctly in the editor.

The Preview looks fine, too, but switching back leaves the HTML exposed, if you have not already gone to Edit HTML and back to Compose.

SGML literals, such as &lt; and &gt;, have to be entered in the Edit HTML mode.

What I really wish it would do:

  • One Return inserts a <br>
  • Two Returns inserts a <p>
In other words, I want reStructured Text.

Worst case scenario

Got the valve cover off and started measuring clearances: Some of them definitely need to be adjusted since they are on the tight side. This means the cams come off, and I have to check the numbers on each one of 16 tiny little shims under the valve lifters, get the right thickness replacement shims, and put it all back together without messing up the valve timing. Not completely unexpected, but definitely something I wanted to avoid.

Took some time cleaning up the valve cover, particularly the gasket area, which had some old silicone and gasket adhesive. Non-chlorinated brake cleaner seems to do a good job of this. Tried polishing up the valve cover with some old Mother's Aluminum and Mag Polish. I say "old" because I've had it several years and it was a little crunchy on top, but I did make some progress. Then I spilled it all over the place. Finished cleaning the cover with brake cleaner, WD-40, and carburetor cleaner. It's not super-shiny, but it'll do. I slipped the cover back on to keep bugs out of the cylinder head.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Alternator rotor fixed (probably)

None of the Woodruff keys I got from Autozone were the right size. I took another look through the Kawasaki parts catalog and finally found the right key. It was in the Generator section, instead of the Crankshaft section, which is what I expected. $3.05 for a single Woodruff key, but at least it fits.

Next surprise: I have a nice Kobalt 3/8" drive socket set (metric and SAE), and I picked up a nice Craftsman 1/4" drive metric socket set on my last trip to Sears for $20, and I also have a decent collection of 1/2" drive SAE sockets (normal, impact, and deep impact). However, I only had a 1/2" drive torque wrench. Rather than buying some 1/2" drive metric sockets, I bought a 3/8" drive torque wrench at Sears. I figure most of the bolts on the bike are 14 mm or smaller, and shouldn't require more than 80 ft-pounds of torque, so I should be pretty safe.

Luckily, on my last trip to Lowes, I picked up a set of strap wrenches: A big rubber strap on a handle. I used the larger strap wrench to hold the alternator rotor in place while I torqued down the bolt that holds it on the crank. It occurred to me that the reason this problem occurred in the first place could have been due to that particular bolt being loose, allowing the rotor to hammer against the Woodruff key until it failed.

Replaced the gasket ($4) and generator cover. Fortunately I still had some Permatex Gasket Adhesive around, so I should have a pretty good seal. I was able to turn over the engine with the starter motor; it feels good to actually accomplish something.

Next up: Valve clearance, change oil and coolant, install spark plugs and ignition system, re-attach and synchronize carburetors. Then, new exhaust system... links for 2005-06-16

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 links for 2005-06-15

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 links for 2005-06-14

Monday, June 13, 2005 links for 2005-06-13

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Creeping along

I made a small bit of progress on the Ninja. I verified from the manual that the key was a Woodruff key, which is more or less a half circle. Got a punch set from Sears. Knocked the back end of it down a bit with a center punch, then finished up from the front with a chisel. Autozone sells the keys (the HELP! series) in a set of 5 for about $4. You can get them for about a quarter if you buy them in bulk. Anyway, it looks like the one I need is 1/8" wide by 9/16" long. Mosquitoes are out in force from all the rain, so I decided to hold off a bit.

Next step is to figure out how to get the new key in without damaging the crank any further: There are some scratches already from the first key shearing off. If I'm careful to protect the surface with rags, I might be able to use pliers; I think that will be safer than hammering (less stress on the bearings). The end of the crank is not all that big. links for 2005-06-12

Friday, June 10, 2005 links for 2005-06-10

Ninjas and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Back in 1998, I got a new job on the northwest side of Altanta (near the Cobb Galleria), and needed a commuter vehicle to make the trip back and forth from Athens. My selection was a new 1997 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6, a 600 cc, 98-hp crotch rocket. The first month of this was an interesting odyssey, since it was January, and even in Georgia, it can get cold (near-freezing). In addition to this, the first 500 mi is the break-in period, which required keeping the engine below 4000 rpm. On the highway, this equated to about 52 mph. This made for a fairly long and unpleasant commute, since the temperatures were in the low- to mid-thirties (F), and the traffic on GA-316 and I-85 is posted for 65 mph but goes 75 mph, and the traffic on I-285 is posted for 55 mph but goes 85 mph. Fortunately, since the trip was 150 miles/day, I didn't have to do this too long, and was not run over.

First maintenance comes, and amounts to nearly $400. You see, on a sportbike like the Ninja, where the engine redlines at 14K rpm, the DOHC valvetrain cannot afford the luxury of hydraulic lifters, and it tends to need regular clearance checking and adjustment. The checking consists of tearing off most of the bodywork, the fuel tank, the air cleaner, the carburetors, the ignition coils, the spark plugs, and finally the valve cover, and then measuring the clearance with feeler gauges. If you are unfortunate enough to require adjustment, then the camshafts must be removed, along with the valve lifter, and then a tiny shim under the lifter must be replaced with another tiny shim that's thicker or thinner. As you might guess, this is somewhat labor-intensive, and comes around every three- to six-thousand miles.

But at least after the first maintenance, I am able to take the engine to 6000 rpm, which is about 70 mph, for the next 500 miles. These 500 miles go past quickly, and at that point, you are completely done with the break-in, and the sky's the limit.

The Kawasaki power curve corresponds roughly with the Spaceballs speed nomeclature:

  • 2000-4000 rpm: Light Speed
  • 4000-7000 rpm: Ridiculous Speed
  • 7000-10,000 rpm: Ludicrous Speed
  • 10,000-? rpm: Plaid
Still, any commute that takes you through Spaghetti Junction on a friday night is not fun. Once this asshole in a riced-up Acura wanted to race me at night at GA-316. I was cruising along at a lesuirely 75 mph and wasn't really interested. He finally went around me, and then he flipped a cigarette butt out the window, which goes into his slipstream and is carried up and literally hits me right between the eyes. (Yes, I wear a full-face helmet.) So I drop down two gears, which puts me squarely in the Ludicrous Speed band, pass him like he was standing still, and then find a mini-van up head, and then slow down and sit in the left lane so that he's stuck behind us.

Another time, during daylight hours, I was going more-or-less the speed limit, when it suddenly begins to rain. Hard. Raindrops, especially large raindrops, sting pretty good at that speed. There are hardly any overpasses on 316 to duck under, so rather than stop and get soaked, I pushed up to a speed where the bow shock of the bike pushed the raindrops around me.

Fortunately, after a couple of months, I got to work from home for the most part, which saved me a lot of time and money. After a year or so, I actually got an office in Athens through an acquisition, which was great, since working from home can make you a little crazy after awhile. One day I was going in to work on the north side of the Athens perimeter and exiting on Chase St. The exit's since been redone a little bit to widen it but at the time it was one lane, and it actually drops off quite a bit, so it's hard to see what's on the ramp until you're on it. On this occassion, there was a pickup truck, which I saw first, and then saw it was towing one of those low garden trailers, the kind you use to haul around lawn tractors. I know I locked up the rear brake, and then I got on the front really hard, so hard it threw me off, and I dumped the bike. Fortunately I did not hit the trailer, and I did not break any bones. Unfortunately I broke the left foot peg mounting bracket, so I couldn't shift, and I had to ride to work (and later home) in 5th gear.

The bike sat for a long while, in part because I had to figure out what parts I needed to order. Finding the food peg bracket was hard. You'd think it would be listed under "frame", but it was with "battery box". During this time, the carbs gummed up a bit, and it didn't idle well, and sometimes didn't want to crank. One morning last summer, not long after replacing the original tires, I tried to start it and something broke: The starter would turn, but the engine would not. So I ended up parking it for the season, again.

This summer (in fact, in the last two weeks), I started tearing into it, with the expectation of replacing the starter. I've replaced starters on cars before, and this is nothing like a car starter. On a car starter, there is a solenoid that pushes out the gear to engage with the flywheel/starter gear, and then retracts once the car is started. On the ZX-6, there's just a shaft with teeth. This engages with a reduction gear, which in turn engages a large gear on the end of the crank. This gear is actually free-spinning on the crank, except that it is mated to the alternator rotor via a one-way clutch. So when you engage the starter, this turns the big gear, which causes the alterator rotor to turn, which causes the crank to turn; and when you disengage the starter, the big gear doesn't turn, relative to the crankcase, though the crankshaft is spinning inside of it.

The problem was: The alternator rotor is fixed onto position on the crank via a Woodruff key and a keyway, and the key had been sheared off. There's also a big bolt that holds the rotor on, and that was being unscrewed as I tried to start the engine, so it's a really good thing I never tried to push-start the bike, since that would have probably done a lot of damage to at least the alternator.

I had pretty much resigned myself to repairing or replacing the crankshaft (big job), but I called Falicon Crankshaft Components and was told I could probably remove the old key with a punch and press in another one. Now I just need to find a punch and the right size key and I should be good to go.


  • Sportbikes are not good long-range commuter vehicles.
  • Don't neglect your fuel system. The crank failure was due to hard starting, which was likely due to gummed-up carburetors leaking gas into the cylinder. (Dropping the bike on the alternator cover probably didn't help either.)
  • You don't own a Ninja; the Ninja owns you.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 links for 2005-06-08

Tuesday, June 07, 2005 links for 2005-06-07

Monday, June 06, 2005 links for 2005-06-06

Thursday, June 02, 2005 links for 2005-06-02