Monday, 16 April 2018

Z250SL breakdown in the rain

"Get a new bike" they said. "It'll be more reliable" they said. "It won't break down, you'll be able to trust it" they said.

On the 29th of March, 6 months into my ownership of a brand spanking new (basically) Z250SL on a 66 plate with a mere 7K miles under its little wheels, right when I thought to myself "hey this is doing alright, this is probably the heaviest rain I've ridden it in and it hasn't even spluttered" I broke down, the rear sliding round a polished and diesel covered junction due to the engine braking, a mile from home with total electrical failure. Ha. Funny. The CB250 never did that even with 93K up..

I pushed it along the road to the entrance to a farm, and stared at it. Then wiggled the key a lot. Life briefly flickered, but not much of it. More wiggling and staring. It seems to be the ignition switch but there's something not quite right about it, it feels like the flickers are more to do with me wobbling the bike rather than directly wiggling the key. As I start to strip off my waterproof onesie to get to my phone to call for assistance I try one last time, and the bugger turns on and stays home. It starts and keeps running. I hurriedly re-dress and, thankfully, I make it home.

At home I still can't figure it. Sometimes there is life, sometimes nothing, but once it does turn on I can turn it off and on again as much as I like and it works every time. I fill the ignition barrel with 3-in-1 spray but it makes no difference. I leave it, out in yet more rain.. Thank goodness it's Friday.

The next day I come back and there is no life at all. No amount of wiggling or spraying can coax it into turning on. Time to investigate. The wiring from the ignition switch runs down to this connector block:
As I keep working the switch like some rabid youth I notice yellow light flickering in the block. Problem found then. A slightest tug on the wire doing the fireworks and..
I've never seen so much corrosion in wiring. Is this the special Kawasaki build quality that people used to joke about back in the eighties? Some wrestling with the wiring allows me to pull the block out..
Time to retrieve the spade connector that is still inside the block. Nurse get my tools, stat!
A bit (okay a lot) of wiggling finally frees the offending article.
I strip the wire back only to find the green rot goes far inside. I chop another bit off, but it's only marginally better. I can't lop any more off otherwise it won't want to go into the block, so bugger it! I try my best to bend the spade back into a useful shape but there's no way it'll crimp the wire a second time. Bugger it even more, where's my 60w soldering iron and proper lead solder..

With only a little bit of burning (a ball of solder even ran right into the gap under my fingernail, sob!) I ended up with this:
After crimping it flat a bit more, and stripping some of the melted insulation off, it finally went back into the connector but I have no idea how secure it is. This led to a bike that actually turned on, success!
What a horrible bodge though. A better fix would be to strip the wire back until it wasn't full of verdigris, splice a bit more wire on to the end and perhaps connect it all with a bullet connector or something. But this will do for now, it was freezing cold and wet at the time! In time I think I will fill all the connectors with ACF50 or similar to try and stop this from happening elsewhere/all over.

This Kawasaki build quality is morbidly fascinating though, I've never seen anything quite like it. Can Chinese bikes really be so much worse? They're a lot simpler for a start..

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Z250SL chain and front sprocket replacement

Here we have an original fitment RK KRO520 O ring chain, knackered after 4500 miles. The previous owner (up to 3200 miles) never sprayed or tensioned it, but to me this is still a very disappointing lifespan. As you can see, the adjusters are way back - this is stretched, I'm not replacing it for fun (as if!). It was actually starting to stretch at such an alarming rate that breakage was threatened, I had to have a cup of tea and lazily spring into action..

Bring on the special tools!
Grindy grindy..
Bit more, show it who's boss.. Ping, off comes the (burning hot!) plate.
I expected the chain to be bendier than it was, given how much it had stretched. The sprocket is whizzed off with an electric rattle gun, a great piece of kit.
The front sprocket was also quite hooked, again very disappointing for OE at 4500 miles!
Thankfully Kawasaki had the sense to fit a large rear sprocket with loads of teeth, so that still looks brand new. On goes a new front sprocket, a Techcorps 151214 that is actually meant for an Estrella and has a slightly wrong offset but everyone is selling them as fitting 250SLs and 300s, and a JT Z3 520 chain because I've seen precisely zero reports on how good they are.
The torque spec for the front sprocket nut on the the old (post 2008) Ninja 250 is 127Nm with the lot covered in a moly oil, oil and moly grease in a ratio of 10:1. I didn't bother with that, the threads weren't that clean anyway. I got up to about 90Nm and gave up, the bent washer will surely hold it in place just fine. And yes the bike is leant against a car, it deserves it for not having a centre stand.

At the time of writing the bike has done a further 2900 miles and the JT Z3 chain, despite rusting almost straight away in the extra salty conditions of the winter of 2017/18, has been quite the delight. Mine was £45 off ebay and I would put it in the same league as a midrange DID, and far ahead of the RK it replaced. The side plates are also reassuringly thick, it is a world away from the old, cheap and flimsy JT chain that adorns the CBX250. They have really put a lot of effort into this new Z3 range. The Techcorps sprocket, on the other hand, is not doing very well with quite pronounced hooking already. With this setup, occasionally slathered in gear oil, I need to tighten the chain every 800 miles or so which can be extended to ~1200 if needed. This is likely mostly down to the sprocket wearing, but also a comment of how snatchy the 250SL is, how rubbish the gearbox is and possibly how heavy it is on chains and sprockets - certainly the thumpers of old were known to chew through chains, and they weren't running anything like 11.3:1 compression ratios!

I've gone right off RK chains though. Have you seen the price..??

Monday, 9 April 2018

Triple QX 10w40 semi synthetic oil - it works!

Triple QX are the own brand of Euro Car Parts, a place that often has big discounts available - 40% is not unheard of. I actually did better than this, finding a 5L bottle of the 10w40 Semi for a mere £5 at a car show - irresistible. At 2800 miles since the last oil change the Kawasaki had a gearbox akin to a cement mixer so the 7200 mile schedule suggested in the owner's manual was ignored and this happened:
There's one way to find out if it's okay with wet clutches..

Happily zero clutch slip was observed, with an improved gearbox feel although the oil goes too thin (and the 'box goes crunchy) if the bike is sat idling for more than ~20 seconds. It's okay again once the motor gets to cool down again. The bike hasn't touched the level either so it can't be that thin, although perhaps Kawasaki actually got some aspects of this bike correct.

No doubt there's sod all ZDDP in it, which won't help the cams on flat tappets or the gearbox but at £1 a litre I'll just change it every 1500-2000 miles, that must be better than waiting 7200 miles. By the way, the old oil was water thin and full of carbon, which will have been scoring up the deep groove ball bearings that Kawasaki have chosen to use as mains. Pillocks.

Scrimp on!

National Motorcycle Museum Open Day 4/11/17

Once a year the National Motorcycle Museum, based in Solihull next to the NEC, has an open day where tight wads like myself can get in for free to have a nose about. I'd heard it was good, worth the £10 admission even, but it exceeded any expectations by quite some margin.

I'd only just arrived at the car park and here are a couple of Norton Commander Rotaries, a promising start...
And a Harris Matchless G80. I've wanted one of these for ages. First time I've seen one in the flesh, want one even more now. Even better the guy was about to leave, so I got to hear it running - it sounded superb. Do want.
I might have taken some covert footage as this was leaving a little later, bask in the glory here.

Yamaha Zeal, 250cc inline 4. Nice YSP stickers.
A lovely Le Mans.
Eventually I made it inside the museum. You know you're on to a good thing when you're reaching over the Manx Norton to get a picture of the amazing bike behind it - in this instance a "Silk" 660cc 2 stroke twin.
Land speed record thingies and special one-offs awaited a bit further on.
I don't often suffer from bike blindness but there are just so many bikes here that they all started to look the same. There are 5 halls like this, it's immense.
The brown thins is a Wulf. Nope, me neither..
This was built by a Rolls Royce engineer called Fred Marsh (I think). Sounded ridiculously good.
Race bikes and a couple of special road bikes were being fired up in the courtyard in the middle. Nice to see. This event seems to be heavily connected to the Brackley Festival Of Motorcycling, I might have to go to that next year.
A Z250SL, star of the show! Yeah right.. One and a half months on and I still hadn't bonded with it. Yuck.
So, in conclusion, the National Motorcycle Museum is an amazing place and it actually is worth paying the £10 to get in. But if they're having an open day then it's even better! Though Steve Parrish was there, rabbiting on doing some awful couples-questions game..

Z250SL initial fixing

It was the day after the night before, and time to see what I'd bought in the harsh light of day. Exhibit A, Your Honour:
The previous owner proclaimed to have never tightened the chain, which explained why it had managed to come off in the crash - it could be unhooked by hand. After standing on the breaker bar the axle nut finally gave way and the axle was moved back by a couple of metres..
This didn't cure the stiff links but at least it wasn't going to fall off any more, so it was a great improvement.

Next up was to find out why the numberplate was so blimmin' wobbly. Check out this load of guff that passes for motorcycle design:
I pulled the R clips and fitted a couple more washers to try and pack it all out, but it didn't seem to help. It turns out the wobbliness comes from some rubber grommets at the back of the plate which basically do not fit or work at all. Less than 24 hours into the ownership of my first Kawasaki I was seriously starting to wonder what I had done.

Next up was the front disc - the main problem. The first step was to pull out all the magnets that the Koso dash reads to calculate the speed, these are popped into the brake disc bolts like so:
Thankfully I have a collection of magnets, including this one from an old hard drive which is really quite fierce.
Don't ask me why there is copper grease all over the axle, I don't know. Soon enough all the magnets were removed!
I bought a Brembo replacement disc for just under £100 because of course I was never going to buy OE Kawasaki. Later I discovered that the disc is the same on the 300s and I believe the post-08 Ninja 250s, so perhaps I could've found a lightly used one somewhere for less. Oh well.
Still seems a lot for a laser cut steel disc but what can you do. A trolley jack under the exhaust header because this is a silly sports bike with no centre stand, a few bolts here and there, a quick wrestle with the frankly awful plastic speedo drive (really, it's completely plastic) and she was all ready to go.
I reused the paper gasket that goes underneath the disc because why the hell not, what does it even do? The bolts were torqued to about 20Nm but it doesn't matter because they all have varying amounts of threadlock left in them anyway. Moving on..

I ran the bike like this for 80 miles (during which time I was incredibly unimpressed by basically everything about it), by which time it emptied the oil sight glass. I placed a little faith in Kawasaki's basic engineering prowess and decided it must be due to the oil leak. Time to strip the plastic off and see what's up..
I decided to take a punt and see if I could tighten the bolts holding the clutch cover on, as that seemed to be the general area where the oil was coming from. There also seemed to be gasket goo underneath and around all the bolts, as if someone had tried to stop the leaking with goo instead of a new gasket or even doing the bolts up. Bizarrely I managed to get an extra quarter, sometimes even half a turn on each bolt and after this the leak stopped completely! I have no idea what has happened here, either someone who has no mechanical aptitude at all has been in there for some reason or Kawasaki have massively messed up during assembly. If you look closely you can also see a bolt has been replaced on the clutch cable bracket, the previous owner did this after the original fell out. The exact same thing happened to this chap so I really do wonder about Kawasaki's ability to tighten bolts.

During this I took time to marvel at the state of the frame..
What a mess of pressed and bent steel it is. No wonder they felt the need to cover it all up with a super cheap plastic thing! Plus all the water in the world is going to pool in that bottom bit, but never mind eh.. I'm sure it can't be that badly built. Right? Right??

Also, a tip for any unsuspecting Koso buyer - the magnets have different poles, you have to get them all the right way around! It took me a lot of fiddling to discover this..

Monday, 2 April 2018

Z250SL purchase

With the CB250 dead from the Spain trip I was in need of some every day wheels. I'd been a fan of Kawasaki's Z250SL ever since it first appeared in the biking press, it looked like a modern version of the CBX250RS-E with very similar specs and yet hopefully a lot more reliability thrown into the mix - 30 years of development must count for something, surely?

I'd had an ebay search set up for months already looking for a used example, but they rarely come up - the model has proven to be very unpopular here in the UK, where people on A2 licences want the 300 as it's closer to the power limit they are allowed and people interested in economical transport are likely to find something cheaper/older. And yet, lo and behold, there it was right when I needed it - a black 2016 Z250SL, crashed and fixed up with a Koso dash and generic round headlight with 3200 miles under its wheels and a chain slack enough to be pulled off the sprockets by hand. A very unpopular bike indeed! I won the auction at £1000, added the bike to my Carole Nash policy with an extortionate £40 admin fee slapped on top and bought a train ticket to head down from Leicester to That London, specifically Erith near Dartford. The obvious plan was to turn up, hand over the money, tighten the chain and ride it home. Yeah right..

I eventually arrived outside a block of flats, in full bike gear and with a backpack full of the tools that Ren at BAT had told me I would need to tighten the chain, and called Ben who was the owner. It transpires he has sustained a scaphoid fracture from this crash and can no longer twist the throttle, so he may as well sell up. He dutifully appeared and took me inside to view the bike - there it was, just like in the pictures! Except, upon closer inspection, it didn't roll. We stood around, prodded the gear lever, found it was in gear (which Ben didn't normally leave it in..) and changed it to neutral but it still wouldn't roll. Then we found the front brake disc was bent - some kids had tried to lever the disclock off and mangled the disc instead! This was a major setback but I was too far in to back out, another admin fee and the cost of a train ticket home was not a welcome thought. We go up to Ben's flat/bedroom and look up how much a disc is from Kawasaki - around £200. Ben offers to knock £250 off the £1000 and I agree, as long as it starts and runs well enough.

Ben faffs around and eventually fits the battery, after I find the block for one of the terminals lying on the floor nearby. It fires up after a few pichoos and settles into a disturbingly quick tickover, such is EFI. It sounds sweet enough, maybe a bit clattery for a modern water cooled machine, but soon there is smoke rising from the exhaust under the engine.. A closer look reveals oil is dripping off the motor straight on to the catalytic converter, some is sitting behind the cylinder while more is basically all around the clutch cover. Ben is near panic now, but I don't mind too much. I suggest it may make the bike harder for me to sell on, so after some searching for answers on google for questions like "engine oil leak meaning" he offers to knock a further £100 off the price. A 3200 mile, 1 year old machine for £650.. I couldn't refuse. Poor Ben though, it seemed everything in life went for him like this - he'd even shelled out £450 previously to have a replacement set of locks fitted after some kids screwdrivered the original ignition barrel, and a further £600 or so to have the crash damage repaired. He was well down on the deal, having paid the full £3800 RRP to get his hands on one of these machines. I did actually feel bad for him.

Having insured it with Carole Nash more than 24 hours previous, I could use the breakdown recovery service to get home. Of course their system is slower than this and no one believed that the bike was actually insured with them, and of course CN's offices were closed after 4PM on a Saturday. Eventually someone at AVIVA took my credit card details in case they had to charge me for the recovery and I was on my way, I started phoning at 16:30 and had someone on their way by 17:30. Unfortunately they didn't arrive until 23:30, and they are with a low loader. I explain that the bike doesn't roll, but the driver doesn't care. He tries to push it and realises it doesn't roll, but he is absolutely not allowed to let us help him, which prompts him to phone his boss. He passes the phone to me at one point so I can explain to the boss that the bike doesn't roll, and if he winches it on forwards he's not going to be able to winch it off backwards at the end of the journey! "However my man wants to do it is how it'll be done" says the boss, and asks to be handed back over to his man. The man starts to winch the bike on, is most of the way up the ramp to the beaver tail and then the light comes on, the penny drops, both me and Ben see it - he looks at us. He says if he winches it on, how is he going to get it off again at the other end? Slow clap. He pulls the bike back off the trailer, apologises for it being the first bike he's ever had to leave behind, and goes off to his next job.

After another hour or so someone from SOS Motorcycle Recovery turns up in a proper van - hooray! I help him load it in (finally, sense prevails), I bid farewell to Ben who stayed with me the whole time (bless him) and we set off at warp speed, it was like Need For Speed but in real life. Sadly he could only take me to South Mimms services, he was not allowed to leave the London area as he was the only person they had down there. I waited a further 45 minutes or so and then a guy on a low loader turns up, you know this doesn't roll right, what they never said etc. etc. and I help him load it on. He goes on and on about how this is the correct way to strap a bike down, never strap them by the handlebars because they'll bend, yadda yadda and breaks the front mudguard in the process but it was too dark for me to notice at the time. He took me as far as Watford Gap services and left me.

By this time it is around 3AM, and I get a text from CN stating that they don't have anyone available to pick me up until 5:30. Twenty minutes later I get a call from a lady with an Indian accent, oh joyous Leicester.. A little bit later an Italian guy turned up, strapped the bike down hard on to his low loader and we set off for home sweet home. We eventually arrive in the street, lights blazing, big diesel rattling, and get the new purchase off  the trailer. I can't even roll it into the driveway, just abandon it in the street. Bed time. Strangely there was no "new bike joy" this time, it was already tainted by this experience. I was also majorly annoyed with Carole Nash, what a piss poor service that was.

A few pictures of this first contact:
23/9/2017 - Welcome to the fold, little Kawasaki.

How to fit Remote Central Locking to your bike

Way back in September, while I was working my way up through France on a very sick CB250, my K100RS was nicked off the driveway. Thankfully it was found parked up on the side stand in Garden Close, Thorpe Astley, Leicester after some very lovely member of the public phoned the police three times about it.

After paying £180 for the privilege of getting my own property back (S99 of the RTRA1984 does not allow you to charge me, police!!) the poor K100 looked like this:
Very sad. The little tykes had chopped off the wiring to the ignition lock and then thrown the lock away, as well as battering the lock of the top box even though it was unlocked the whole time.. But most importantly, the indicators were still in one piece - these are now near impossible to find in decent condition. Because of this, and the fact the clutch still seemed to work, the bike was worth saving. Anyway, a quick search revealed that ignition locks don't really exist any more for these bikes, and I didn't much fancy having two keys for it. I also didn't fancy having it put back to standard trim when it is easy to steal. A plan was formed..

What I initially wanted was something like keyless ignition, where I would just have to be near the bike and it would all turn on - very sci-fi. There are many kits like this for cars but the fob has to be placed inside a little ring-shaped receiver, which is totally impractical on a bike. I turned my attention to remote blipper kits instead, not so sci-fi but more practical.. After some reading it was unclear of what exactly I needed, nonsense from poorly translated Chinese like "remote flameout" not helping, but it seemed a good idea to have remote start as it may provide a constant 12v at the press of a (remote!) button, which is what I need. Sure enough, for £10 this fabulous piece of Chinese engineering was mine:
The old Master Racing Alarm System Of Motorcycle, a classic of our time.
It's actually a neat little kit if you can put your reliability worries to one side. The instructions are, quite honestly, faintly bemusing and not helpful if you want to just use this as a remote control ignition switch.
I eventually deduced that the orange wire, the one that is supposed to bypass the original central locking circuit, provides a constant 12v which we can use to switch a big relay that can take the real load. Check it:
Knowing this, the rest is easy.

To fit this kit to your bike, you will need the following:
  • A somewhat hefty relay. If your switch is a simple on/off then a simple normal relay will work, there are plenty of automotive ones out there that can switch 45A if you really must. They also often have suppressing resistors or diodes for when the magnetic field of the coil collapses when you turn it off, which can help save things (apparently). The switch on the K100 happens to connect two pairs of contacts, so I had to get a Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT) relay. I used a JQX 38F 3Z which is actually 3P3T but was readily available at a reasonable price of £5.84.
  • An inline fuse holder, I bought mine from Maplin (£2.69, but not any more..) but they can be bought from Halfords for an extortionate amount or, better yet, online. Beware the mini blade fuse holder is the same physical size as the normal blade fuse holder so there is no point buying the mini one, it'll just be harder to find a replacement fuse.
  • A bunch of female spade connectors, plus a wire stripping and crimping tool - these really are useful.
  • Some wire, preferably black and red. This can be garnered from Halfords for a lot of money.
  • Probably a multimeter so you can find a suitable feed and ground.
So, you gets yer wrecked bike..
And you pull out the bit of wiring that used to connect the ignition switch to the rest of the loom..
Strip the knackered ends off the wires and fit spade connectors so that it all snicks nicely on to your relay.
This is to bridge the contacts that the old switch would've bridged. If you didn't understand that, you may be in trouble with this job.. I also added a spade connector to the end of the orange wire of the black box and made a black ground wire for the other side of the switching circuit of the relay.

The next step is to find a power source for your new black box of remoteness. I took the opportunity to remove all the wires from the connector block that I wasn't going to use, such as wires to the indicators to make them flash with the alarm and the wire that would churn the starter with the remote start. I don't want any of that.
I eventually decided to use the +12v on the input side of the starter relay (so this is straight from the battery, basically) and a spare ground that I'm not entirely sure what its origin was. With the new Chinese box being fed straight from the battery the inline fuse was important!

With that sorted, cram it into whatever space you have. I thought the electrical gubbins box underneath the tank on the K100 would have loads of room but it was a surprisingly tight squeeze.
I also connected the speaker, not because I wanted the alarm but because I wanted the bleeps to say whether I had armed/disarmed (or enabled/disabled) the system. This fitted just nice..
And so, you end up with this.
Steal it now, tykes!! The alarm system is also surprisingly good, on the least sensitive setting I have to punch the seat to make it give some warning beeps and the wind has never set it off despite blowing the cover about.

Some people have reservations about remote blippers on bikes, stories abound of being out for a ride, needing to fill up and realising the key for the tank is at home. These people must be rather special, I just put the blipper on the keyring with the other keys. I have, however, had the lock button get pressed while the fob is in my pocket, which of course totally disabled the machine - I am now much more careful about where I put the fob in my pocket. I am also of course completely at the mercy of at least two Chinese relays but you can't spend your life worrying about that kind of thing, at least the kids can't hotwire it any more.

Satisfaction level of this job - 11/10.