Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Works Engineering Hosts Vintage Motorcycle Show

Works Engineering on North 14th St between Berry and Wythe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hosts a show every year. The beer was sponsored by Asahi, and there were burgers, and dozens of vintage bikes. And Flo qualified as a vintage bike! (1983 Suzuki GS550E.) She got some love.

Here are some pics of the event.

An old Honda CB500 Four with cafe-style bars.

This is Jen, who makes Retro Moto t-shirts, getting camera time on her cafed-out CB. I bought one of her shirts as a souvenir.

The street before the rain. (Yes, it rained.)

Thruxton! One day I'll ride one of these...

Rev'It was at the show offering gear at discount prices. I tried on a jacket that fit me perfectly. But I try not to buy anything over $100 without taking a few days to think about it. They have a place in Red Hook in Brooklyn where they have warehouse sales. I'm so there.

And it rained.

And rained.

And we got wet.

Hot rod weekend

This past weekend (August 21, 2010) was an annual hot rod event in Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Hundreds of hot rod and bike owners came out to display their projects. Here are some photos:

A bunch of photos of cars and bikes

Harley for sale.

An old BMW.

This guy with the helmet makes custom leather seats. Tres cool. I think he builds custom bikes, too. I'm not sure 'cause, well, he was on his way out and I didn't get to talk to him much.

One of his work. (To the helmet-wearing guy: Hey, I couldn't find your site.)

Check out the air filter. Cymbals.

I like the stick head.

Indian original!

This little thing is a "Vespa 400"

Two custom bicycles
After getting back from the hot rod show, we saw these two bikes built by Local Cycles in Long Beach, New York (on Long Island). They parked, then biked 3 miles to the show.

Parking at the hot rod show
This pic looks like it might be at the vintage bike show. But it was just a bunch of bikes parked outside the hot rod show. Motorcycle parking only!

The next day, we went to the vintage motorcycle show. More pics to come!

Meet Flo

In order to ride Molly again, I would have to remove her engine to get the stator coils. Since there isn't much time to work on her (since I'm not yet independently wealthy to do whatever I want) before our trip in the Northeast this Labor Day weekend, Jason and I acquired Flo, a 1983 Suzuki GS550e.
Flo, my 1983 Suzuki GS550E

The first time I saw this Suzuki, I didn't know what to think. I was still sad that Molly broke down and needed so much work. But once I got on this bike, she got her name. Flo is quick, responsive, and fun to ride. Much more fun than the CL360 or the CX550. Flo's model is GS550, but her displacement is really 572ccs. She's got 4 cylinders. She's the first 4-cylinder i've ever ridden. And she's about 70 pounds lighter than Molly. That's a big difference for me at 125 pounds. I might be able to lift her if she falls.

The first weekend I rode her, it rained. Her tires are relatively new, so I didn't worry.

She needs some work-- cleaning of her idle jet and carburetors (there are two), an oil change. Maybe replacement of covers for the ignition points and petcock. But that's about it. I haven't looked forward to riding as much as when we first got Georgia (the CL360).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Classic bikes need mechanic owners

This weekend, Jason and I went to Buck's County, Pennsylvania. River Road runs alongside the Delaware River, and we wanted to ride the stretch from Riegelsville to Milford, NJ.

We had to put Molly's front fender back on, since it was supposed to rain on the way back home. So, unfortunately, we left later than we wanted. (We were also out late the night before, and had a bit too much to drink.) By the time we got to the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan to head out onto Route 78, traffic was backed up for at least a half hour. Though it wasn't too hot outside, sitting still in traffic caused our engines to heat up quite a bit. Molly's temp gauge was almost in the red.

We didn't get to Riegelsville without further problems. In Bloomsbury, NJ, there's a Pilot Travel Center (my favorite gasoline stop). Jason likes to stop there, because it's a good place to rest after an hour on the highway. We picked up some sundries and geared up to ride a country road to Riegelsville, but then Molly wouldn't start. The battery was dead. Thinking about how the battery could have died while on the highway, I thought about possible symptoms. The engine was losing power then surging at high speeds. Before that we were sitting in stopped traffic while waiting to get through the Holland Tunnel. We had also tried to use carb cleaner, since the right side was backfiring when slowing down. I was sure it was because the right carburetor needed some degunking. I thought maybe the surging was a result of gunk getting stuck in the jet.

Maybe the carb cleaner was a bad idea. But that wouldn't be a reason why the battery would die so fast. Maybe a diode had burned out in the rectifier. In addition to a possible bad rectifier/charging system, we already knew one of the stator coils is bad. I hate being on the road with an old bike without the proper tools to troubleshoot problems.

At the Pilot, I said to Jason, "We need to push start her."

Just then, an angel at a gas pump yelled out, "You need a push start?"

At first, I didn't know what to think. I must have had a confused look on my face, because then he walked over with a smile and said, "You need to push start your bike? I had a CX500. They're great bikes." I think he was a local. His Jersey license plate said "Veteran," and he had a calm and stalwart demeanor. And he was a big guy. Well, bigger than Jason.

I put the clutch in 2nd, turned on the ignition, and in one run at about five mph with our veteran hero at the stern, I popped the clutch and pulled the throttle, and Molly started right up.

I didn't get his name. Wherever you are, Sir, thank you. People like you make me proud to be American. He was truly an angel that day.

We got to Riegelsville where we met up with family, and I put the battery on a trickle charger (which we take with us, because of the bad stator coil). The next morning, we packed up and headed down River Road. Gorgeous. And fun. It was much more fun to ride than Bear Mountain, because the route was much longer.

After some more family meetups, we decided to try to beat the rain. Well, we rode right into it. With the faulty firing, riding in the rain was not exciting. It was cold, we were wet, and Molly's power was getting worse. We were going so fast, though, I couldn't really listen to the engine with all the wind noise. I could only feel her lose power at high RPMs.

Several exits passed by, and each time one came up, I thought about getting off and drying off. But I really just wanted to get home. So we kept going.

Halfway there, the rain stopped. But Molly's ignition was even worse.

Then we reached the Holland Tunnel back toward the city. What a relief. For a minute.

At a traffic light just before reaching the toll booth, Molly stalled and wouldn't start. The battery was dead again. Jason and I pulled over to a side street and tried to push start her again, but she wouldn't take. We tried several times until Jason was too wiped out to push more. Fortunately, there was a shopping mall close by, so we took her battery and the trickle charger with us to charge while we got some food and a little rest.

With enough juice, we tried starting Molly again. The starter turned, but the cylinders would not ignite. Then we pulled out the spark plugs. The right side was covered in oil, and fuel had splashed up the sides of the plug. I didn't have a multimeter on me to check the connections and I forgot about touching the plugs to the cylinder to check for spark.

After replacing the right plug with a new one, we tried again. Nothing. I started thinking again about the symptoms. Obviously the battery wasn't charging. It could have been the rectifier. But then the ignition wasn't functioning either. The stator? Oh no.

Since it was getting late, we decided to leave Molly and head home through the tunnel. The parking lot to the Holland Motor Lodge was right there, and the manager was kind enough to let me park her overnight. In fact, he was so kind that later I looked up the hotel online and saw that it received an average of 4 out of 5 stars from hundreds of reviewers. So, side note, great place to stay. It's AAA and it's walking distance to public transportation, like the Manhattan Ferry and the New Jersey PATH train. And it has a parking lot, so you don't have to pay exorbitant Manhattan parking fees to enjoy the city. (Though, it is pretty easy to park a motorcycle in the city.)

The next day I went back to Molly with a fully charged battery, a multi-meter, a wire, electrical tape, penetrating cleaner, a bunch of tools, and a phone number for a motorcycle tow. I didn't have to look much to find that the phone number was the most important thing to have this time. I noticed that the right spark plug wire was loose. I pulled off the electrical tape that was on it to find out exactly why it was loose. Well, it wasn't just loose; it was broken. The plug wasn't getting any spark.

When we bought the bike, the seller mentioned that the carburetors needed cleaning, so we attributed the backfiring to dirty carbs. I never thought that it was the wires. It turns out the ignition system had two faulty connections between the CDI and the right spark plug. And when I checked the spark plug connector, there was no continuity at all.

Now, I did bring a wire along with the tools, so I theoretically could have done something McGyver to get the ignition to work. But unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem. I checked the stator coils. Another bad one. The engine was so hot that it melted the resin in the alternator. I had ridden Molly all weekend with one functioning stator coil. The ignition system drained the battery. I wasn't ready to ride with ghetto wiring and a failing alternator. The wire might have melted (shorted) and gotten me stuck inside the tunnel. Instead, I elected to call Tony of TLT Towing to get me home.

He came, and in one swift move, got the bike on his truck and drove us home.

Next step, fix the stator.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back on the home front with a bloody maria

Well, I forgot to check the front end to make sure nothing was coming loose. But all was fine anyway.

My top speed was 75. I guess the speedometer on old Molly needed some warming up. Still, it only went to 70, but the needle wasn't jumping up and down like it did going 65.

It actually was a little windy today with the impending rain on its way through the Tri-State area. We made it back to Brooklyn before it fell, and settled down for a beer and a bloody maria (a bloody mary with tequila) at one of our favorite haunts, Superfine, in Dumbo.

I didn't know before how many miles Molly would get on a gallon of gasoline. Riding only in the city, Molly got only about 35. Sometimes 25 if there are a lot of red lights. Today, I felt the engine sputter and thought the tank might have been close to empty, so I switched the gas line to reserve and went to the next gas station. Turns out it wasn't low fuel. It was probably a dirty carburetor. Molly's right side has been backfiring and I keep forgetting that I have to clean it. Anyway, on one gallon riding on highways and up and down mountain roads, she got 70 mpg.

We went to Bear Mountain in downstate New York. At 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the shade from the trees was a nice relief from the sweltering highways. Since I replaced the brake caliper myself, I was a little nervous going down a mountainside, so I stayed slow-- about as slow as cagers drive. The brakes worked. Molly rocked. We rode back up the mountain, went to Bear Mountain State Park, enjoyed the view, took pictures, talked to strangers on bikes...(It's a big biker destination. Even Harley riders are friendly. Hahaha. I'm teasing.)

Jason rides a Triumph Scrambler, and when we ride together, he usually gets all the love from admirers. But today on Bear Mountain, Molly got love from a guy who said the CX500 C was his first bike. He asked where my fender was. Oh yeah, so we were going to replace the fender yesterday before leaving, and after removing the tire, found out that the fender brackets are 5 mm short of the fork holes. Either have to drill new holes in the fender, get the proper front fender, or make my own. If I didn't work full time, I'd make my own. I'll probably drill holes. So, I also mentioned to the guy that Molly's foot pegs come from a Deluxe, and handlebars were a spare part that came with Jason's old CB350, which he doesn't have anymore.

All in all, my first ride out of New York City was fun. Jason said I didn't do anything stupid. That's good. I was definitely more cautious having swapped out the front end without a professional mechanic. Today's ride was more comfortable than yesterday, I guess cause I realized that wind is normal. If there were no cars on the road, I would have been more aggressive. We did ride on Seven Ponds Road, which had very few cars. The speed limit was 40, but it was so clear, I had to go a little faster.

Now back in Brooklyn, we've relaxed from the ride, made it inside before the rain, and settled with some cold beverages. Bloody maria for me. Mmmm. Cheers.

Above: Footage Jason got after we got back to Brooklyn from Bear Mountain. Notice at the end, the evasive move. There was an SUV double-parked. Got ready for it to pull out, just in case.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Icon Hella Street Angel boots review

They look funky with the red detail, and the hardware looks cool, but these boots are not for riders.

Maybe it's fine for passengers, but I could not ride my bike with these boots. Could not even walk in them. They are inflexible. I could not lift my toe to shift. They look cheap. The heels are plastic and the ankle protector is located too high. Didn't even cover the malleolus.

At least the sizing is correct. But besides that, if you want a good riding boot, don't bother with these.

Riding Upstate

After 2 hours on the road, all I can say is, "I'm pooped."

I've got to write this down, because I don't want to forget what it was like riding on the highway for the first time.

I had no idea how fast I was going until asking Jason, because my speedometer gets stuck between 50 and 60. I knew we weren't going that fast. It felt windy, so I kept the speed a bit slow. Little did I realize that the wind I felt was from riding. The air was actually pretty still.

Now that I'm aware of how windy it feels in the driver's position, I'll probably roll the throttle just a little more tomorrow.

We spent about an hour on highways. Even though our route was supposed to take us onto winding slow roads, I missed an exit and kept going until there seemed to be an alternate route. Though there was an opportunity to get back on the planned route, I decided to stay on the highway. It was a winding highway-- fun to ride.

Molly rode triumphantly.

We got to our destination, the Cider Mill Inn, a bed and breakfast in Pine Island, New York. It's a quaint house just off County Road 26 in Orange County with a tepid pool and all kinds of charm. And wifi. After checking in and a dip in the pool, we took off toward the village of Warwick.

The roads were pleasant under the trees with plenty of curves and clear pavement with just a few areas of farm dirt from tractor wheels and some other rough spots from road wear. We took Route 1, Pine Island Turnpike, enjoyed the scenic ride, then parked on Main Street and walked around.

On a Saturday evening, the town was quiet. But we found a nice place to eat with air conditioning and friendly waitresses next door to an antique shop that offered complimentary local fruit, I guess because there was so much. Nice welcome.

Tomorrow we hit the winding roads again. Gotta remember to check Molly front end before we leave.

First highway ride

Today I will take my first solo ride on a highway. I suppose at this point I might be a better mechanic than rider given the amount of time I've spent working on the two vintage bikes I've ever ridden.

To prepare for today's trip out of the city and into the beautiful wooded upstate New York scenery, I had to make sure everything worked properly on old Molly. A previous owner butchered her electrical harness, so over the past few week I worked on restoring the wiring as close to stock as possible (a bit difficult since the harness doesn't match Molly's year). The biggest challenge to achieve this was getting all the connectors and wires to fit behind the headlamp inside the headlight bucket.

Now that everything is working, I'm excited to get on the road!

We decided to route out a way that takes less highway than necessary, since I have no idea how Molly will do at high speeds. I've never ridden more than 60 mph. Also, I've replaced her front end by myself. (Previously she had a Deluxe front end, and I've replaced a proper Custom front end with a dual-pot brake caliper.) It's a little scary to ride the highway needless to say. But we've torqued the essential bolts and the axle to proper specs, and everything is aligned. I think Molly will be fine.

It's hot and partially sunny today. Over 90 degrees. I have my white mesh jacket and a brand new pair of textile pants, which unfortunately are black, but there's little choice for women. I would wear my brand new women's Icon Hella boots, but I can't even bring my toes up to shift. The design is poor, and the quality cheap. You can tell the heel is made of plastic wrapped in leather. They're so inflexible that you can't even walk or, as mentioned already, shift. What about brake? How am I supposed to brake if I can't even move my ankle? C'mon Icon, you can do better than these boots.

I better pack. Jason has reserved a B&B for tonight. First thing tomorrow morning, a Sunday, we will ride the winding roads of the countryside. Also a first! Exciting :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First ride in the rain

In February, Jason got me a 1981 Honda CX500 Custom. I named her Molly and rode her instead of Georgia, which was too small to pass big trucks on the highway. Molly had some electrical issues, but I fixed them. It also seemed that one of her forks might have been bent, and she veered off a bit to one side.

Before getting Molly inspected, we had her tires changed and had the mechanic look at the forks. Sure enough, the left fork was bent. Of course we had to get the forks changed asap.

To make a long story short, after learning that Molly had been put together with parts from at least 4 different bikes-- including three different models-- getting replacements became a two-and-a-half month-long search and wait.

I put the front end together myself. The triple tree, forks and axle came from an 82 Custom in Texas. The caliper came from an 82 Custom in the Midwest.

Finally, today, after receiving the last part-- an air hose for the air-assisted front forks-- I got to ride. It was a dark and cloudy day today, but Jason and I had places to go. So, off we went.

Just minutes into the ride, it started to rain. I was a little nervous, because it was the first time I ever rode my own bike while it rained. I had ridden before on wet pavement, but not while drops were falling. It had also been over two months since riding, so it took some time to get my motorcycle legs back. On top of that, I didn't put the front fender back on. I liked how it looked without it, and well, I didn't think I'd ride in the rain.

Alas, with all the excitement of receiving the last part, riding Molly was imperative.

The water naturally came up off the front tire like a geyser. I must have ridden over an oil slick, because at one point the geyser splashed brownish water on my helmet. And, since the headlamp had been bent from a previous rider's crash, a little water got inside where all the wires are connected. Fortunately, nothing seemed to short. If anything I think the water helped keep the poorly connected blinkers working.

Fortunately, it was a short intermittent summer rain and traffic was light. The heat dried up the streets pretty quickly, so it wasn't too scary. I liked it actually-- riding in the rain, that is. Except next time, I'll have the fender on.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Electrical problems

Just about every motorcycle mechanic I talk to has one thing he prefers not to deal with: electrical systems. It's not necessarily because of the occasional shock or burn from being the ground receiver of an open circuit. (12 volts is nothing compared to the 240 coming out of a laundry machine outlet.) The bad part is the intermittent working and not-working of components. Or worse, an engine not working after virtually everything and the electrical has been checked.

The electrical system on a motorcycle is like a body's circulatory system. Blood pumps through the body from the heart-- like energy from a motor to the rest of the bike. The heart muscles contract because of signals from the brain-- like the ignition sending impulses to the motor which mix with fuel causing explosions in the engine. Like the body, which can lose power if loses blood, a motorcycle needs its electrical system in sound shape in order for everything else to operate well.

When Jason and I bought Molly, a 1981 Honda CX500c, the previous owner said he had to put her on a trickle charger every time he parked overnight or longer, or else she wouldn't start. A mechanic told him it was a bad rectifier. Bad doctor. The rectifier, as we checked, is in perfect working condition. Something else was wrong.

One thing that was wrong with Molly was that the circuits were not properly closed. Like a blood vessel, which is a continuous path through the body from the heart to body parts and back to the heart with a pit stop at the lungs, an electrical circuit runs from a power source (the battery) to the components and back to the power source with a pit stop at ground. Just as blood needs oxygen from the lungs to continue doing its job, electricity needs ground to fulfill its purpose. (If you look, you'll see that one of the terminals of your bike's battery is connected to ground. It could be the positive terminal or the negative depending on the model of the bike.) Molly's wires had open contacts; uninsulated copper "bleeding" power before reaching the bike's components. In electrical terms, her power was going straight to ground. This was why the previous owner could not leave the bike parked overnight without charging the battery. Her power was terminally bleeding. (hehe)

Electrical system rule #1: All complete circuits must go to ground.

Molly had incomplete circuits. Before power could reach components, energy was wasted via uninsulated copper touching other metal parts on the bike, or moisture in the air. A symptom of this was the dry battery acid sprayed all over the starter solenoid. (Fortunately, that still works.) To fix this, I used heat-shrink tubes made out of silicone, a rubbery polymer made from the natural element, silicon. The wires were cut, which were then run through pieces of tube long enough to cover the bare areas, and soldered. Then the tubes were placed over the bare copper and heated using a heat gun, causing the tubes to shrink around the copper, insulating it from moisture and power shorts.

Copper wires in circuits are covered with usually vinyl or silicone. Personally, I prefer silicone because it has a higher heat resistance than vinyl, and its base is silicon, not petroleum like vinyl. (Rid the need for oil! End the war!)

All circuits on a bike are grounded (attached to the bike frame). Take blinkers for example. Some bikes have blinkers with one wire coming out of them. That wire is to be connected to the power source. When it has only one wire, it means the part to which the blinker is attached acts as ground. Look at a motorcycle frame carefully, and you'll find that all a motorcycle's components are connected by metal. Even the battery has a line wired to the frame. The front forks are sometimes connected to the frame with metal parts which act as electrical conduits. Other times wires come from the front forks and connect to the same metal frame as the battery.

The real difficulty of repairing electrical systems on motorcycles is the sorting through the complexity of wires. It's kind of like taking all your blood vessels and figuring out which tube goes to what body part.

Try to solve the problem before spending too much money and spending a mechanic's time

A motorcycle is an isolated electrical system. When it all works correctly, the battery provides the energy to power an initial spark, which when mixed with gasoline, gets the motor running, which then causes the alternator rotor to turn, building up an electrical charge that is sent to the rest of the bike including the battery which then recharges. Turn off the ignition switch, the engine shuts down, lights go off, and the battery stops charging.

If a light doesn't work, its circuit is broken. Finding where it's broken can be a challenge, especially if you don't know all the parts within the circuit. This is where electrical diagrams come in handy. Even if you don't have the exact diagram for your particular model, it's possible to figure out the problem. Most motorcycles use different color wires for each circuit. So, if your headlamp's wire is blue, and you find a blue wire elsewhere on the bike, there a high probability that that blue wire is connected to the headlamp.

To find out where a light's circuit is broken, answer these questions:
  1. Is the ignition switch on? If no, turn it on. If yes, go to 2.

  2. Do other lights work? If no, charge your battery. If yes, go to 3.

  3. Does the bulb have a broken filament, or is it burned out? If yes, replace it. If no, go to 4.

  4. According to the wiring diagram, is the light directly connected to a fuse? If yes, go to 5, if no, go to 6.

  5. Is the fuse broken? If yes, replace it. If no, go to 6.

  6. Is the bulb connected to a power source and is it grounded?

If you notice, there's no step after 6. That's because even if you think the answer is "yes," it might not be. This leads to rule #2.

Electrical rule #2: Connections must be clean.

If you have an old bike, the connections probably need cleaning. All it takes is some fine sandpaper-- 220 grit is dandy-- and a little scouring. It doesn't have to be shiny. Just get as much dirt or corrosion off as you can.

In a perfect electrical world, wires would be uninterrupted, joined by a clean and solid soldering job. But since motorcycle parts are often replaced, wires must be able to disconnect in order to remove bike components. Some manufacturers use standard connectors that can be bought at electrical supply stores. But other companies make their own connectors. Whatever way wires are connected to each other and to components, the connections must be clean-- metal-to-metal. On my old Honda, if I have to replace connectors, I use standard blade connectors with silicon covers.

In the case of blinkers, as mentioned eight paragraphs in, ground might be the fixture itself. In that case, either a new fixture is needed or an extra wire connected to the bike frame. Just did that (added a wire) to Molly the other day to get her to pass inspection.

One day, maybe, I'll go into how parallel and series circuits work and how to make sure one circuit is insulated from the others. For now, I hope these two electrical rules help you in your quest to get your bike working: all circuits must be grounded, and all connections must be clean. Even though my blog is called "Learning to Ride," if you're bike is broke, you can't ride it. So, learning to fix it is learning to ride.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fixing Molly, a 1981 Honda CX500c

Here are pictures of all the things done to Molly to get her to work well.

When we brought the bike home, the first thing we did was change the handlebars. CX500 Customs have hangar handlebars like cruisers. The hand position is really uncomfortable and can cause tendinitis. Besides, I have a fractured forefinger (hairline probably), and during the ride home, whenever possible I had to shake the pins and needles from my hand. Not good positioning.

Me on Molly, a 1981 Honda CX500c, testing different handlebarsTesting different handlebars

The right blinker wasn't working and the battery wasn't holding its charge, so Jason tested the rectifier-- that was good-- and I removed the headlamp to look at the wiring. What a mess!

Messy wiresThese wires were hanging out the back of the headlight fixture, tangled in a ball wrapped in electrical tape.

Someone had spliced in extra wires to attach flasher relays. A bike only needs one flasher relay connected in series to the switch. But this bike had two flashers wired in after the switch. The right flasher was wired incorrectly, hence non-working. Plus, hot wires were exposed, which means the power was going directly to ground. That's why the battery was discharging. Evidence of the discharge showed up on the starter relay near the battery, which was sprayed with dried battery acid.

I untangled the ball, removing connections that were done by a hack, and started pulling wires through the headlamp fixture, where they belong. There were lots of cut wires!

Pulling wiresUntangled!

After getting all the wires through, I called it a day. Next was retrieving the wiring diagram to rewire and get everything working properly.

All the wires pulled through the fixtureIt already looks better.

Since the harness is different from the original, I had to go by several wiring diagrams in order to understand which wire went where. Unfortunately, each diagram had a different key. One diagram used the letter "B" for Black. On another plan, it was Blue. Aw, geez. I had to make lots of notes.

Original Honda CX500 wiring diagramThis is the original Honda CX500 wiring diagram before the Custom came out. This diagram helped most. Some of the differences were drawn in. All the dots that are circled is where wires needed reconnecting. If you double click on the picture, you can see it bigger.

This next diagram is the addendum to to the Honda manual. Unlike the harness Molly has, the following diagram has only one black wire in the harness. Molly's harness has two black wires running through. This explains why the previous electrical hacker cut so many wires trying to make it work.

Honda CX500 wiring addendumThis is the addendum to the wiring diagram with notes for the different models. I circled the power line connectors to figure out why Molly's lights weren't working properly. That didn't help much. Though, it was from remembering this diagram that I realized that that circuit simply wasn't getting power.

Did I mention I made lots of notes?

My sketch of the blinker circuitSince the existing diagrams didn't match, I made my own diagram to figure out the problem.

The Haynes Honda CX500 wiring diagramThis is Haynes' Honda CX500 wiring diagram. I used this to figure out which power line needed a splice. See where it says "4 way connector"? That's where the additional brake lights are going to go after reducing blinker power.

To get the blinkers working, I used the gray and black wires in the harness, unlike the original CX500 manual, which says they run through the headlight fixture.

Flasher relays are polarized. You have to match the correct terminal to the power source. In this case, the black wire goes to the positive side of the relay (I think. I'm not sure because this relay has an "X" instead of a "+"). The gray wire returns to the lights via the switch. In my sketch, I drew two power sources: one through a fuse, the other from "power." I'm not sure why I drew it that way. Probably because of all the diagrams I was trying to reference. I ended up going through a fuse, because of this diagram I found on a website.

Someone's flasher diagramIt looks like the person who drew this might be an engineer. I think I'll trust this and go through a fuse.

There was a spare brown wire, probably for cops to attach a siren or something. I used this for the blinkers since this line only powered the lights in the tachometer and speedometer. If I ever put in something like handwarmers, I'll reroute the blinkers to the main power line and install a heating element through that fuse (maybe). Besides, my new blinkers will use just a little power and will need a thermistor or some other resistor to keep them from shorting. But, hey, if you know better what to do, please comment!

Relocated flasher relayTurn signals only need one flasher relay. The switch controls which lights are connected to it. (That's soldering flux in my left hand. It's all Radio Shack had for flux.)

After testing the relay, I had to clean up some of the connections, and tighten others. Once all the connections were clean and insulated, I put the wires together for the headlight to go back on. The 7-volt regulator (not the same as the rectifier/regulator combo unit) sits outside the fixture. Wires were wrapped and pulled out to make space inside the fixture. In the end, all the original plastic connectors, and newly soldered connections were inside the fixture.

Organized wires in the headlight fixtureThe wires reconnected and reorganized! It's not advised to use those blue connectors permanently, by the way. But making sure everything worked, it sure was handy having them. When I change the bulbs to LEDs, I'll solder and heat shrink the connections.

She works! (Picture to come.)

1981 Honda CX500c wiring

She works! Two nights ago, after getting home from the shop, I looked at the Honda manual's electrical diagram thinking about why the front brake, headlight, and running lights work, but not the rear brake, turn signals, oil and clutch lights.

The problem with figuring it out was that the harness did not match the model bike I worked on, and it wasn't the same as any of the 3 diagrams I used. So, I had to really think about how power is routed. Fortunately, once I matched the connectors that go in the headlamp fixture to the ones in the diagram, I could see that only 4 or 5 wires were different. (When we bought the bike, the wires were in a tangled ball outside the fixture.) Maybe there were more mismatched wires, but there were only a few that mattered.

Power for the lights must come through the ignition switch. The lights I mentioned-- front brake, headlight, and running lights-- did. The rest were powered by...? That was the problem. Those were connected directly to the voltage regulator attached to the rectifier. But power doesn't come through there unless the engine is running. The oil and clutch lights must come on before the engine is started. So where was the power going to come from? It also had to come from the ignition switch.

The original Honda plan has a black wire that appears to end on a connector. That connector was obviously different from what I had on the bike. Sure enough, that black wire on the plan was on the same circuit as all those non-working lights. The original connector probably had connection to power in it. But my connector is different; it doesn't have that connection.

I wanted to put these lights on a different circuit from the front brake so that in case one circuit went bad the other circuit would still have a brake light. This second circuit also had to come from a 10amp sub-fuse. The headlamp needs its own fuse since it uses the most power at about 40 watts on low beam. The brake light is 27 watts, each turn signal, 23W. The lights on the indicator panel use 3-4 watts each.

I had to find a battery-powered wire to splice into. Fortunately, on this harness, there was a spare brown wire routed via the ignition switch from a non-headlamp fuse. The only other thing this circuit powered was the speedometer/tachometer night lights. I connected this brown wire to a spliced-in black wire from the turn signal circuit.

Unfortunately, with everything wired, too much power was needed to make everything work through one sub-fuse. I ended up disconnecting the front running lights (turn signal lights that stay on when not indicating a turn) in order to have enough power to run the essentials-- brake light, running tail light, oil and clutch indicators, and turn signals.

I have to say, I really enjoyed working on this project. Moreso than other kinds of projects. Writing my book wasn't even as fun.

Now that I can get the bike inspected, next electrical step is to replace the turn signals for LEDs. They will draw less power. Then I'll be able to reconnect the front running lights. (I'll swap those, too.) I also want to add 2 more brake lights to make a braking triangle. This could potentially prevent being rear-ended by absent-minded cagers.

Can't wait to ride! Snow, go away!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wire gauge

So, I have to replace some wires on old Molly. She's a 1981 Honda CX500c. It looks like someone replaced the entire wire harness, because on her model, the flasher relay should be located in the headlamp fixture, but the gray wire to connect it runs to the back like in newer Hondas. Some bloke jimmied in a couple relays in the front and miswired the right blinker so that no power was getting through to the switch.

Thank goodness my daddy, former electrical engineer, passed down his engineering aptitude DNA to me. :)

Oh, so, I was going to share this website: GaugeWire.com. It tells you what gauge wire to use. On this custom, currents can get past 20 amps, so I'm getting 14 gauge. I hope the other wires are 14 also. *sigh*

Bike upgrade!

It's been a while since blogging about Georgia. Well, that's because she's been in the shop. Jason and I decided we'd fix her ourselves. We changed the chain and the rear sprocket, which was bent when hit by a car. The tire has been balanced, and Jason took her for a spin. I haven't ridden her, though, because I was afraid to ride her after an amateur balanced her tire.

The rectifier I installed works. Her battery's been charging just fine. I wrapped it in heat resistant tape (up to 500 degrees F) and bolted/grounded it to the frame where the old rectifier was. I'll put rectifier pics up later.

Anyway, Georgia was too small for me to ride anyway. I couldn't get her over 55 mph over the Manhattan Bridge, the way I ride to get home from the city after work. And I certainly was unable to pass a truck safely, so Jason decided I needed a bigger bike.

Here she is! Her name is Molly. Ain't she a beaut?

We got her yesterday. The owner thought the rectifier was bad. We test it, and it's fine. BUT the wiring is a mess. The battery was probably discharging through all the exposed copper throughout. This is what it looked like behind the headlamp:

I'm gonna work on her today. Clean her up nice. :)