Motorcycle maintenance 21st century style
The motorcycle riding season is upon us with the weather becoming mild once again. I stopped down to see my friend and motorcycle technician Matt Dickerson at Ironside Cycles on Second Street, in my little town of Jamestown in the old Kaczar Collision building. Matt recently moved his motorcycle repair business to Steve Kaczar’s old digs when Steve moved into his new building on Fluvanna Avenue. Still in the process of setting up the new facility, Matt took some time to talk to me while he got my Harley ready for the riding season. I noticed that he had on the shelf a few high tech electronic performance system scanners that looked like automotive scan tools, so I asked him if he worked on cars too. He said no, and you can imagine my surprise when he said that the motorcycles of today now use the same types of systems the cars use to manage fuel delivery and ignition. Wow! No more points and carburetors for the new bikes, Big Brother is now controlling everything electronically. Wonder what’ll happen when SkyNet takes over, hummmm?
Matt went on to explain some of the technology that motorcycle manufacturers are using to operate their bikes today. Terms like ABS, mass airflow, air temperature, coolant temperature, crank, cam and knock sensors, and the like came up, additionally ABS brakes, lighting modules, mili-volts, amps and meg-ohms. These are all concepts used in automotive management systems! Then he told me about a special ignition system that some Harley V-Rod motorcycles use that measures and adjusts ignition timing based on an ion sensing system that Volvo developed for their cars. The way the system works is that the performance computer measures the sparkplug’s firing intensity and based on that input, it adjusts the ignition timing according to the engine’s combustion burn. Another wow moment for me; I had no idea these bikes are so advanced in technology. Did you know that fuel delivery on today’s motorcycles is now managed by electronic fuel injection and that carburetors are gone? Just like the cars. The other day I sat in wonderment watching a new Harley start up with one click of the starter, just like a car. No more kick start or manipulating the carburetor choke, just switch on the ignition, hit the button and vroom! Amazing.
I asked Matt about using synthetic oil in motorcycles; he said he likes this. He explained that for the bikes that are air cooled, synthetic motor oil makes a lot of sense given that good synthetic oil is formulated so tough chemically. Heat is the great killer of all engines and good synthetic motor oil strongly resists “viscosity breakdown” (defined as a lubricant’s loss of ability to flow and lubricate) which damages engines. Not only that but synthetic motor oil ensures that the engine stays cool because of the oil’s ability to keep friction (a heat generator) down. Of course always change the oil filter with the oil change and make sure to use an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) quality filter, ensuring maximum filtration of dirt from the oil. If you change your own oil and filter, check your owner’s manual to find out what viscosity and formulation oil is recommended and do not deviate from that because it could result in engine damage. To reiterate, remember that because of the especially high temp operating environment of bike engines, manufacturers specifically recommend oil that is specially formulated to resist this harsh operating environment.
Liquid cooled engines
We also talked about bikes that use liquid coolant to achieve cooling. Some bike engines use a full liquid cooling system while others only cool the cylinder heads because they are tucked deep inside fairing where they cannot get fresh air to them, the rest of the engine being cooled by onrushing air. With liquid cooled head design, small radiators for the heads are engineered right into the fairing. A fairing is that area in front of a motorcycle that looks like a sort of body. Fairings make for excellent wind protection, use of sound systems, intercom and cell phone systems, all noise and wind free.
Matt then explained that with these fairings and all the electronics engineered into them, special electrical systems called “Three-Phase” had to be designed. With a “Single-Phase” electrical system of old, when the bike is idling it’s running off of battery power. The charging system actually does not start recharging the battery and powering the bike until the engine RPM raises to highway speed. Additionally, because of the low output of Single-Phase systems, manufacturers use larger gage wires and connectors to allow for ease of transference of electricity to operate and recharge the bike. With a Three-Phase system, the charging system is working even at idle and because it works in a step-like manner, providing electricity in minute amounts to the bike all the times, plus smaller wiring and connectors can be used. This allows for powering of multiple electronic accessories, sound systems, lighting, gages and anything else you want the bike to power, all inside fairings without large, clunky wiring and connecters.
I then asked about tires and Matt explained that motorcycle tires today are designed in such a way that multi-rubber compounds are used to form the tire, much like car tires with one major difference. These tires are designed in such a way that the rubber is harder in the center of the tread and softer on the sides. This allows for longer tire durability. A tire that formerly gave you 5,000 miles, now can give you 10,000 to 15,000 miles under normal riding conditions.
By the time I left Matt at Ironside Cycles, my head was spinning and I had gotten a crash course in motorcycle engineering, design and repair. I was compelled to write a column to inform my fellow motorcycle riders out there of what’s going on with cycle design and engineering. Hope you found the info helpful. Thanks Matt and Ironside Cycles in Jamestown for the insight.
Additionally, I gotta thank Steve Kaczar of Kaczar Collision on Fluvanna Avenue in Jamestown for giving Matt and Holly, two upstarts with a young family, an opportunity to open up their motorcycle repair business in his old location. Too often the one responsible for making good stuff happen does so silently behind the scenes and unfortunately remains there without acknowledgement. Not this time! Once again, Steve Kaczar serves the community in which he grew up and has worked in all his life, by bringing such a strong talent in motorcycle repair to the forefront in his old location! Kudos Steve! I salute you too!
‘Til next time … Keep Rollin’