Image Credit: SplitShire/Pixabay

Motorcycle maintenance and other cultural differences.

It’s either done right or it isn’t done yet.

March 19, 2017

Recently, I feel that my motorcycle isn’t running right. There’s some distinct vibration when the bike is idling, which swells to a tremble, once I get past 5,000 RPM or 120 km/h. Strangely enough, the bike seems sportier and more responsive than before. Aside from the tremors, it’s fun to ride.

So, why not leave it alone? Well, I’ve tried ignoring it, but I’m covering a lot of ground here in the French countryside; so, after a while the trembling becomes annoying. I still remember my first thoughts after taking the new BMW R 1200 GSA and KTM 1290 Super Adventure for a spin last year. “If my bike would ever shake and sputter like this, I would take it to the shop”.

I’m far from home and an adequately equipped workshop or garage. And although I’ve started buying some basic tools to handle routine maintenance, I’d consider it merely a small, yet logical, extension to my standard-issue emergency toolkit. Nevertheless, I think I managed to eliminate any loose bolts, parts of the fairing, or accessories as the root of the problem. At this point, it’s all I can do.

After trying to cope with the problem for another week, I decide that it’s time to seek the help of a qualified mechanic. Since I’m foreign to the area, I call the local Honda dealer and schedule an appointment.

These guys are seriously nice. The head mechanic, Benoit, quickly hops onto my bike and disappears for ten minutes. He returns with a big grin on his face, which I’m not sure is a good sign, as far as mechanics go, and offers “pas de souci” (no problem) as his diagnosis. He then tilts the bike to its left, balancing all of its 220 kg on its kickstand. With the front end now dangling, he starts swiveling the handlebar first to the left and then to the right, and grins at me again. Apparently, this is French mechanics’ code for the steering head needs to be replaced. I’m not sure I’m sold. Would that explain why the bike also trembles when it’s just idling? Well, I decide to give him a shot. It wouldn’t be the first time that my rational thinking gets in the way of resolving a problem. Benoit disappears again. After a few minutes, he pulls around a brand new Honda Africa Twin. He hands me the keys and tells me that my bike will be ready tomorrow in the afternoon. Alright … I’ll be joyriding the new Africa Twin CRF 1000 for a day …

The new Africa Twin is an impressive motorcycle. While its 998 cm3 and 95 horsepower won’t put it in the same league with other dual-sport heavyweights, it’s a fun bike to ride. I move a few things in my schedule and tear up some French country roads in the afternoon.

I return to the dealer shortly after 3:00pm the next day. My CBF is already parked outside, ready to be reclaimed. Before I’m able to put down the kickstand of my loaner, Benoit finds me and greets me with a firm handshake. He is quick to tell me that he thinks that the problem is resolved now. Wait a minute. He thinks that the problem is resolved now? Before I can say anything, he goes on and points out that my Pirelli tires are known to make for a rougher ride, if compared to Michelin or Metzeler tires the French Police is using on their motorcycles. He adds that my Brembo performance break pads aren’t original either and thus, they can cause vibration. I take a deep breath, but before I can object, he continues to stress that it’s normal, that over time, parts develop some play on a motorcycle. I can’t help but sigh. All hopes of picking up a tremor-free bike are suddenly subdued. His reasoning that tires and brake pads can cause a motorcycle to vibrate while it’s idling, with other words, being at a complete standstill, is eluding me. I pay €187 and ride-off on a CBF that trembles exactly as it did before.

Two weeks go by and I’m still coping. It’s time to replace my rear break pads. At home, this would be child’s play. But here, I’m still not adequately equipped to handle the job myself. So, I turn back to the local dealer to have them replaced. Let’s call it an attempt to build a relationship with these guys and perhaps persuade them to revisit the problem with this vexing tremble. This time, I wait while they swap my pads. It’s somewhat disconcerting to see my Brembos being discarded only to be replaced by rather flimsy-looking genuine Honda pads. Anyways. Benoit, takes my bike for another spin and assures me that it’s perfect. I’m grasping for words, but eventually manage to get out that “this may seem normal for late model Hondas, BMWs, and KTMs; trouble is, my CBF isn’t running on a 2 or 3-Cylinder engine like they do. Benoit smirks at me and summons the manager of the dealership, Antoinne, for a test drive. Another ten minutes later, Antoinne complies, puts on his helmet, and takes off on my CBF. After a while, he pulls back into the parking lot from behind the garage and halts my bike right in front of me. “Elle est parfait” (she’s a perfect ride) he mutters while taking off his helmet.

I’m hard-pressed to respond, but I reconsider. Starting a debate, given that my French is at the level of that of a three-year old, isn’t going to help anything. Maybe they really don’t know any better. It reminds of something the 45th President of the United States said, two months after taking office. “My administration is running like a fine-tuned machine”. Well, if that were the standard, it may hint why Germany is selling so many cars in the United States. I’m dwelling on that thought for a moment and start thinking about French automakers. This deeply cynical thought makes me chuckle and so I pay another €48 and ride-off on a CBF that would put any Sybian to shame.

I ride-off on a CBF that would put any Sybian to shame.

I spent the next couple of weeks contemplating what my next steps should look like. This bike is my lifeline. My way out of isolation. My escape from places I don’t want to be and uphill battles I don’t want to fight. It’s my way of dealing with the chaos in my life. Going back to the dealer seems out of the question. I’m certain, they already look at me as somebody who suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder or Munchhausen by Proxy Syndrome. Is it possible? Is it possible, that it’s me?

I decide to pay the competition a visit. After a short wait I get to talk a mechanic, who quickly volunteers to test-drive my motorcycle. Upon his return he raises his eyebrows and starts fumbling with his goatee. He then embarks on the same routine I just witnessed a few weeks earlier at the Honda dealership. Balancing my bike on its kickstand and swiveling the handlebar from left to right. “Steering head?” I ask. He nods before putting my bike back on the ground. I tell him that I just had it done less than a month ago. “Well, whoever did this, did a horrible job” he answers. “The next thing to try would be cleaning and synchronizing the carburetor” he says, sounding almost apologetic. “This was done six months ago” I respond firmly. He shrugs and I’m back to square one.

I’m caught in a heavy downpour on my way home and I’m soaking wet, when I pull up in front of my garage. My jeans grip on to my legs with their heavy moisture-laden fabric. The rain subsides the minute I open the door to my garage and pull my bike inside. When it rains, it pours …

There’s an inherent danger to attempting to self-diagnose a problem over the Internet. That’s especially true in my case, since I already went through the proper channels. Not to accept a diagnosis from an expert, can only mean two things; neither of which will be good. Regardless, I register with the Honda Forum in Germany. Germany, because Germans tend to be meticulous. It’s either done right or it isn’t done yet. This philosophy quickly shows in the responses I receive in the forum. DL1ZAM, for instance, quickly hones in on the problem and offers tips that seem both logical and technically sound. He has his own YouTube Channel (ZAMs Channel) for which he produces entertaining and inspiring videos on how to maintain Honda motorcycles (CBF 600/1000, CB 1300, etc.) as a layman. He considers himself an amateur, but his talent, his work ethic, and his workshop would rival that of most professionals. To me, Martin (DL1ZAM’s clear name), would be the to-go-to guy to tell me that there’s either something wrong with my bike or with my head. I’d sure like to know. Maybe there will be an opportunity to visit the beautiful Maintal in Germany on a trip up to Sweden or Norway some day. For now, he has inspired me to buy some more tools …

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