Sunday, August 14, 2011

The bikes and maintenance

Every day, I spend 20 to 30 minutes doing some basic maintenance on the bikes.  In the morning before we start riding, I check, adjust, and lube the chains, check and adjust tire pressures, check the fasteners for tightness, check the oil level, and do an overall visual inspection of the bikes.  So far the bikes have done remarkably well and haven't needed much maintenance, with a few notable exceptions. 

From others' experience, I knew the chains were the "weak link" of the Symbas (pun intended) and consequently, we were carrying high quality replacement chains with us.  The stock chains required daily adjustment and were losing tension rapidly, to the point where they were audibly dragging on the chain case by the end of each day. The bikes have also used a little oil, requiring approximately 3 ounces each to keep them topped up in the first 2400 miles.  Some of the oil found its way out of the crank breather and into the overflow tube, I guess the rest is the "angels' share."  The tires have worn well and the tubes have held pressure, requiring only the occasional 1 to 2 psi top up.  Recommended pressures are 25/28 psi, but with our added loads of 50 to 60 pounds of gear, I upped them to 30/34 psi. 

I also knew from other riders that periodically checking fasteners for tightness on Symbas is a good idea.  While you don't feel the vibration while riding, the massive 101.4 cc engine certainly seems to shake loose assorted nuts and bolts.  Because of Dabinche's experiences, I pay particular attention to the exhaust header nuts and swing arm bolt.  On average, one exhaust header nut has been loose every other day on one of the bikes, and the swing arm bolt has been snugged at least once on both bikes.  We did, however, donate to the road one countershaft sprocket cover bolt and one leg shield bolt each. 

Cutting the new chains to length
After 2400 miles of hard riding and noisy chains, we got to Columbia, MO on Saturday, August 7th.  Sunday morning it was time for some much needed maintenance beyond the daily fettling.  With the very kind assistance and advice (and garage, and tools, and rags, and enthusiasm) of Dr. Glen Heggie, we set to work on the bikes.  The first order of business was the chains.  After we removed the chain guard on my bike, I discovered what poor condition the chains were actually in.  My chain had tight spots to where one run had an inch of play and the other was drum tight.  Re's chain actually had a kinked link.  I don't know why they degraded so rapidly.  While we are carrying heavy loads and running the bikes pretty hard, the chains have been well maintained.  Since we purchased them, the chains have been adjusted and lubed every 300 to 400 miles with DuPont Teflon chain lube.  Our bikes, however, did sit on the showroom floor for over a year before we purchased them, so I am unsure of their condition prior to sale.  Regardless of why, they needed to be changed.  While I removed the old chains and inspected the sprockets, Glen got out his Dremel and cut the new chains to length.  The new chains went on easily, but after the chain guard went on, we quickly discovered that the o-ring chain is wider than the stock one, and it was dragging on the chain cover.  We removed the covers, spread them slightly, reinstalled them, and everything was quiet.

Adjusting the valves
It was also time for an oil change, so while the oil drained and I checked other fasteners for tightness, Glen was kind enough to run to the auto parts store for two new quarts of 10w40 Castrol GTX.  The used oil was somewhat discolored but neither black nor burnt smelling, and the oil screens were clean.  While the bikes' oil was drained, Glen and I took the opportunity to adjust the valves.  The valves on both bikes were slightly loose and were easily put back to spec.  We did learn that my bike lacks many of the timing markings on the A/C generator that are present on Re's.  With the valves adjusted, new chains installed, and fresh oil in the crankcases, the bikes were once again ready to roll. 

I have said since the beginning of the trip that in my toolkit, I have a wrench to turn every fastener on our bikes.  But while changing the chains and adjusting the valves, I discovered there were three fasteners on the bikes for which I lacked an appropriate tool.  Many thanks to Glen, who donated those tools to our cause!

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