Motorcycle advice: Spannerman June 2015

Date 11.6.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader


Letters this month:

– Spare parts for DKW/Victoria
– Cold Starting a Yamaha XJ650
– Finding qualified motorcycle mechanic
– Differences in rear brakes
– Should I buy a 2002 Suzuki Bandit GSF1200S?
– What’s the difference in oils?



Spare Parts for DKW/Victoria


I was wondering if you might be able to help me. I’m the proud owner of a DKW Hummel moped made in 1957 and, after several years of happy Hummelling, the clutch cable finally broke, which brings me to the point of this letter.

Do you know of anyone dealing in spares for this marquee? I realize that a cable can be made up but a source of spares would be handy in case more serious repairs are required in the future.

Bill Condon

Well, to start with, Bill, it probably isn’t really a DKW. In 1957, DKW became associated with a company called Zweirad-Union, which already owned the Victoria and Express motorcycling manufacturing facilities.

As far as I know (and I’m sure there are a couple of thousand vintage freaks out there sharpening their pencils at this very moment to condemn my ignorance), DKW didn’t make moped engines after the war. Zweirad-Union used the DKW brand name on export mopeds because nobody had ever heard of either Victoria or the Express. Your bike is probably a Victoria.

Now, a company called Fichtel and Sachs bought Zweirad-Union in 1966. It also owned the Hercules factory and flogged DKWs under this name for a few years.

Sachs also made chainsaw engines and these were sold in Australia. Since your letter was actually on paper with a stamp on an envelope, I’m guessing you haven’t made friends with the interweb yet. If you could find a former distributor, you might get an address to write to but in cases like this, the interweb can be your best friend. I just did a quick Google search and there are a few businesses which suggest they may be able to help with parts.

For engine parts, you may find your engine is used in similar vintage Hercules models. One thing to keep in mind is that while you can almost always work out some way of fixing an engine, body parts will probably be irreplaceable.

Cold Starting a Yamaha XJ650

I’ve got a slight problem with my ancient Yamaha XJ650. It starts first time, every time, every morning, as long as it’s been under cover. It’ll start outside as long as it’s a reasonably warm day but it’s almost impossible to start outside on cold mornings or if it had been left outside for a while on cold nights.

It was tuned by a ‘professional’ a few weeks ago to no avail. The plugs have a slight carbon deposit on them and the battery is a bit low. Any ideas?

Frank Miller

If the battery isn’t consistently holding 12 volts, Frank, that could be the problem. If the engine is warm, there could be enough charge to turn the engine over fast enough to start it but it’s harder to turn the engine over when it’s cold.

You can buy a multimeter these days from automotive stores for as little as $20 and you can use this to check how much charge the battery is holding and if it’s being charged when the engine is running. Despite how complicated the instructions on the sheet of paper which comes with the multimeter look, these two tasks are relatively simple and only require you to hold the positive lead on the positive terminal of the battery and the negative lead on the negative terminal. With the ignition off, the digital reading should be around 12 – 13 volts. If it’s 10 volts or less, you probably need a new battery. Now start the bike and get someone to hold the revs at around 3000rpm. Using the same technique with the terminals, you should get a reading of between 13 and 14.5.

If the battery checks out, tuning could be the issue. Sooty deposits on the plugs indicates too rich a mixture and the best way around that is a trip to a dyno.

As the winter feature in MT issue #295 makes perfectly clear, it’s getting colder. One thing you can do to help the engine turn over faster is to use a lighter base-weight oil. Down south, particularly if you’re doing mostly short runs, a 5W-40 isn’t out of the question although, if the engine is tuned well, 10W-40 or 50 should be fine.

It sounds like your XJ is close to good, Frank, and maybe just a new battery will solve the problem.


Finding a Qualified Motorcycle Mechanic


I am not a mechanic although I have mechanical skills and complete most maintenance and repair items myself with a fair rate of success. The mysteries of tuning are real for me, though, so when I know I’ve reached my limit, I pay a professional.

A few months ago, my rather complicated ’95 Moto Guzzi forks went to a mechanic who we will call Bob (butcher of bikes and not even close to his real name). He was happy for me to help out and watch on. The forks were placed in a vice with a rather sharp aluminium tool used as a griping device. My natural inclination would have been to make a cleat out of timber the size of the inner fork tube and I received a stern rebuke when I suggested it. The forks started leaking again after less than 2000km and when I stripped them down myself, guess what? Right where Bob had used the aluminium clamp, the inner tube was gouged, wearing out the inner seals.

Several hundred kilometers prior, Bob also used a wire buffing wheel on a bench grinder to clean the inside of the aluminium rim on the bike and duct tape instead of a rim tape when I brought a new tyre. A recent flat led to a trip to another bike shop. Its proprietor guessed I’d been to Bob.

“That bloke has stuffed up more rims than the Pope says prayers by wire-brushing the hard anodizing off the alloy. The duct tape only serves to speed up the corrosion.”

The Guzzi forks are now fixed again at my cost and I’ll probably have to get new rims for the Guzzi in the near future.

While I’m whinging, he also stripped a thread doing a valve adjustment on my ’76 BMW. I had the bike trailered back to his workshop after it had stopped running less than 200km later and he quoted a ridiculous $1200 to rebuild the heads.

I picked the bike up and haven’t been back. I may only be a dumb electrician but I’ve stripped and rebuilt hundreds of conveyor drives, pumps reduction drives and all the rest. I would never do to customers what Bob did to me.

This brings me to my point. When you see a qualified mechanic do something incorrectly, who should bear the future cost of rectification? Bob denies any liability, saying it was already like that or someone else has worked on it so it’s no longer his responsibility.

Needless to say, everyone I know with a bike no longer uses Bob’s workshop so at least I have a mild sense of satisfaction.

Lindsay Saunders

Before I forget about it, Lindsay, if the head rebuilds for your ’76 Boxer include re-cutting the valve seat angles so that the engine can then use unleaded fuel (plus replacing and polishing everything else), $1200 isn’t far off a reasonable price. There’s a fair bit of labour in the job.

Now, back to your points. Whatever else he’s done wrong, Bob has failed customer relations 101. Most workshops have a ‘no entry’ sign at the front to separate the customer from the process of mechanical work. You know when you take your wife’s car in for a service? You’re greeted by a customer liaison officer whose job is to make you feel good about leaving the car there before the dealership’s team of unsupervised apprentices destroy it.

Having said this, Bob sounds like a dud. You say he’s a qualified mechanic – are you sure? In smaller communities, word-of-mouth is more effective than a million dollars worth of advertising. If you really are a dud mechanic, word spreads and your business won’t be sustainable.

I’m with you on soft clamps for things like fork stanchions which can’t really afford to be pitted or damaged in any way and aggressive grinding of rim wells will, of course, encourage rust. Perhaps he’s from an era when repairs weren’t expected to last forever, although 200km is a very liberal interpretation of ‘fixed’.

What can you do? Each state has an automotive trade association and many bike workshops are affiliated with it. They all have mediation services in case of disputes between customers and association members.

What the mediation service does is listen to both sides of the argument and attempt to resolve the dispute. Although it’s a trade organization, if the mechanic is at fault it will back you to have the issue resolved.

If the person you’re dealing with isn’t a member of the state-based automotive body (I’m guessing Bob isn’t), your other port of call is consumer affairs which will explain your other, limited options. I say ‘limited’ because if it boils down to your word against his, not much can be done. There’s such a thing as an ‘expert witness’ you can use in court cases if it comes to that but they’re usually more expensive than the repair you’re contesting.

If you run a workshop, be honest and fair with your customers. It’s really the only way to stay in business. If you’re a customer dealing with an honest workshop, respect its integrity and don’t assume all prices are inflated or, if things don’t go the way you expected them to, there’s any malice or incompetence involved.

Differences in Rear Brakes


Why do racing and superbikes have the rear brake caliper on the bottom of the disc which street bikes always seem to have them on the top?

Chris Lehmann

Race bikes give the rear brake a fairly hard time so they get hot and when that happens, they become less effective. The old theory is that hanging them off the bottom allowed more air-flow to manage heat and it also lowers the centre of gravity (slightly).

Rear brakes on street bikes don’t do (and shouldn’t do) anything like that amount of work and mounting them higher also protects them from the road grit that wears pads out prematurely.

Racing bikes have so much going on at the rear end these days I’m inclined to think the positioning of the rear caliper is now just a case of where they can find the space to fit it. Old habits die hard, though.

The image here with the underslung disc is of a kit to reposition the caliper on a Ducati 749 from above to below. Looks kind of cool, as well.


Should I buy a 2002 Suzuki Bandit GSF1200S?


I’ve been reading Motorcycle Trader for many years and enjoy it immensely. May I please have some advice regarding a 2002 Suzuki Bandit GSF1200S.

The bike I’m looking at has 88,000km on the clock. It seems to be in very good condition and it has a full service record. It was mainly used for touring and a little around-town use.

I’ve test-ridden it and everything seems to work well. The engine runs smoothly with no vibrations or rattles. I was surprised how well the suspension handled broken surfaces and back streets. They tyres, chain and sprockets are all good.

The asking price is $4650. How much more life could I reasonably expect from it before major components would need attention? I’m 52 years young and I’m after a highway cruiser which will handle a passenger on some rides.

David Mula

If the bike is as good as you indicate, David, it’s worth the money. A mistreated Bandit will have lots of scars by the time it gets to 88,000km and it sounds like this example has none.

A good indication is the service record. Even if you can just be sure the oil has been changed regularly, it’s a major plus in terms of longevity.

The 2002 Bandit was the blue/black K2 model. Is all the bodywork original? If so, it’s another good sign.

Bandits have a very sound reputation for reliability so the mileage shouldn’t frighten you. I’ve seen examples with over 200,000km on them, one of which had a completely untouched engine and looked like it had just been wheeled out of the showroom.

My instinct is this bike will serve you faithfully.

What’s the Difference in Oils?


We’ve all been told that oils ain’t oils, but would you be able to explain why four litres of motorcycle oil from a reputable company (in this case, Castrol) costs $34 while another reputable company (Motul) sells four litres of the same grade oil for $90?

Bruce Thompson

Thanks, Bruce, for getting me back into the murky world of the oil industry. You know when you walk through the doors of Autobarn or something similar and you see a ‘special’ on car oil and it’s a reputable brand (sometimes even Castrol) and it’s $12 for four litres? Does it ever cross your mind why even cheap motorcycle oils are so much more expensive than car lubricants?

In our capitalist world, price and quality almost never match up. Castrol, you might be surprised to read, is now owned by BP. I check every year or so and I’m of the view that BP has largely left it alone and isn’t using the brand name to flog inferior BP products.

Castrol markets in around 140 countries and has 7000 employees. Thanks to BP, you can buy Castrol products in BP servos as well as automotive shops so the volume of sales allows it to reduce the cost of individual packages – Activ 4T is a general purpose motorcycle oil (mineral rather than synthetic) which I trust and it’s around the $34 you mentioned.

Motul (and, surprisingly, Repsol, which has a huge international profile with MotoGP) has a more limited distribution network, less volume, more costs associated with the brand name and lots of overheads which piles dollars onto the retail price.

Is it better oil? The consumer ends up being the judge. The oils all differentiate themselves in the marketplace with a variety of claims so learn how to read the label on the (oil) bottle. If the contents meet the requirements of the manufacturer of the bike you ride and it’s a long-standing brand, it’s okay to trust it.


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