Monday, April 12, 2010

Bad News, Ladies and Gentlemen

Day 18

Miles today: 25 Total miles: 4,246

Today was the day to deal with that noise I've been hearing in 5th gear. Stephen tried to set up his internet last week, but got the run-around from AT&T (whose coverage has been pretty terrible out west by the way, even in big cities). End result is that I borrowed Stephen's computer and went down to Cole Valley Coffee to use their wireless and do some research on the bike and mechanics in SF.

I started out by using the power of the interweb to figure out what was likely wrong with the bike. This is one of the magical things that the internet has done. Getting info from other people who owned my bike and had a similar problem would have been pretty much impossible a few years ago, but in an hour or so, I had searched a few message boards, a couple of Yahoo! Answers-type sites, and I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking at. I described the noise I was hearing to myself as a "rattle," but I think I was trying to talk myself into the noise being more benign than was actually the case. It was/is probably more of a grinding noise coming from the bottom of the bike. Other owners who had heard a similar noise had found out that it was from the gear itself breaking down. When I read that, I figured that I definitely needed to see a mechanic about it.

Yelp is also awesome. Finding a good mechanic in a given city usually involves talking to someone who lives there. Stephen did give me a recommendation, but I also got to go on Yelp and find out that everyone else who had gone to the shop had a very good experience. I called O'Hanlon Motorcycles and set it up to take the bike down for them to do a test drive and see what they heard. Dave took it out and confirmed that it was in fact the gear that had gone. The noise was coming from a grinding of the teeth of the gear. He told me that it was likely the 600 mile sprint from Santa Fe to Vegas that did it.

I had read and been told that this bike was not a good highway bike, which I understood to mean that it did not perform particularly well in the 70-80 mph range. I had no idea that running it at 70-75 mph for that long would actually do severe damage to the bike. It also has to do with the way the engine is set up. I'm not very familiar with the physics/mechanics of what forces are at work here, but this is my understanding: Bikes have either 2 or 4 cylinders for the most part, and mine is a 2 cylinder (V-Twin). 2 cylinder bikes tend to perform better at low rpms, where torque is high, while 4 cylinder bikes do better at higher rpms, where horsepower is high. When I was researching what bike to get last year, one of the negative reviews that this one received was that it needed a 6th gear because it was running at higher rpms at 60 mph or so than felt comfortable. When I read this, I understood it to mean that there would be less acceleration available at these higher speeds on this bike as compared to others in the same class, and that gas mileage would be relatively poorer at these high speeds. I had no idea that running the bike at these speeds would actually be harmful.

So I when I was researching what was wrong, I also looked into what replacing 5th gear would cost. I saw that the part was $90, but I couldn't get any info on what the labor would be to rebuild the transmission. I talked about it with Dave and he gave me the damage report: The genius engineers at Yamaha, in their infinite wisdom, designed this bike in such a way that getting to the transmission required completely removing the engine, taking off the carbs, valves, etc, and splitting the engine just to get to the transmission. Dave estimated that this would take 15-20 hours of labor at the shop to do. Shop time is usually $80-$100 an hour, so that's a total price tag of around $1,500, conservatively. I'm not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but I paid $2,900 for the bike and had estimated that it would be worth about $2,000 after the mileage I would put on it this trip.

Dave told me up front that it didn't make much sense to fix the bike, at least not at his shop. I was very lucky to take the bike to him. I'd like to put in a big plug here for O'Hanlon Motorcycles in San Francisco. Dave is a great guy and was very honest an up-front with me about what I was facing and how to best deal with it. He even told me that if I were to fix it, I shouldn't do it at his shop, but at a dealer, because it would work out being cheaper for me. He also gave me his number and offered to put me in touch with someone if I needed to find a shop. He didn't even charge me for the time he spent diagnosing the problem and talking to me about it. He said something to the effect of, "You've got enough problems here - I'm not going to give you another one and make you pay for this."

So we started talking about my options. One was to sell the bike, buy a plane ticket, and come home. That one didn't sit too well with me. Getting it fixed didn't sound too palatable either. So I'm left with just riding it in 4th gear then rest of the way. Because I had such trouble with 5th at high rpm's, Dave's advice was that I try to keep my speed at 40 mph or below. Yeah, you read that right. So getting back will be a little more challenging now, and it looks like the route might be altered a bit. More on that as I get going and figure out what kind of time I can make.

I also asked about the safety of riding this bike with this damage. The worst cast scenario is that the transmission seizes up and locks the rear wheel. The chances of this happening are very low, but just in case, I'm going to be riding the rest of the way with two fingers covering the clutch. That way, if the rear wheel does lock, I can grab the clutch more quickly and let the wheel spin freely again.

So with bad news comes good news . . . Sharon gets in tonight and will be with me for 10 days as we make the now much more challenging journey from SF to Seattle.We'll be in SF through Sunday and will try to make Seattle by Friday. Stay tuned for more adventures.

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