Sasha’s Engine Overhaul: The Story of a Love-Hate Rollercoaster

Any relationship that started with love at first sight has caused me lots of trouble and Sasha is no exception! Did I ever mention I bought her cos I fell in love with her when she stood amongst lots of scooters outside Kickstart motorcycles, where we had stopped for Suki to get her MOT done? …. Anyways…. I still love her, but this summer she has given me nothing but trouble!

You may remember my mentioning that Sasha was losing power and Dave Wilkins had to fix her round about the same time I fixed the leaking fork seals and we moved to Hanger Lane. I managed to align the forks properly by loosening all the nuts on the yokes and then bouncing up and down on the handle bars in a perfectly vertical line, and then fastening all the nuts and bolts again. (Was it top to bottom or bottom to top? – Oh well, I’ll have to ask Google again next time the issue comes up.)

But now Sasha was losing power properly again: In the middle of Hanger Lane gyratory in the fast lane! She coughed and spluttered and ran on only one of four cylinders. Paddling with my feet and encouragingly yelling and swearing at her inside my helmet, we managed to crawl around and exit across three lanes and down towards my road at about 5 mph. Luckily the cars saw we were in trouble and kept their distance.

So I finally started the engine job. So far I had done nothing but remove the sump and change the oil so the idea of opening the engine and then putting it all back together again was scary. Oh well, gotta start somewhere and I’m sure the Haynes Manual and YouTube were keen to help. The former strongly suggested I remove the entire engine from the bike for better access, which would take at least three people. But I didn’t have three people, and anyways, it meant unscrewing even more scarily complicated looking parts.

I decided to keep the engine in situ for now and started unscrewing things as prescribed by the manual. After all I could always remove the engine later, if it became necessary. Ok, for those of you not interested in bike mechanics, skip the next bit cos you’ll probably get fall-asleep-and-slide-off-your-chair bored. Those of you, who are interested, read on. And finally those of you who are good at bike mechanics, be nice! – It’s the first time ever I have done this… So here goes: (oh yeah, and I don’t know most of the actual names of the parts so I hope you can guess what I’m on about)

– took some “before” pictures

– took off the seat and stowed it away

– disconnected the battery and removed it

– detached the fuel hoses and removed tank

Now she looks decidedly naked!

– disconnected the spark plug cables

– tried to remove the rev counter cable at the engine, but it wouldn’t budge, so detached it at the instrument cluster

– detached the breather hose on the carbs

– loosened the air filter box so it can be pushed back later to get the carbs out

– removed the severely blackened spark plugs

– detached the exhaust pipes (they later came off completely, which gave me a chance to clean them 🙂 ) and drenched the rusty screws in WD40 as I wanted to re-use them

– removed the little circular covers on the side of the cam cover

– loosened the cam cover screws and removed the cam cover (actually rather enthusiastically loosened the cylinder head cover screws first and then realised I was jumping the gun a little)

– after detaching the carbs, not realising what the cam chain actually does and how its attached at the bottom, we then tried to lift the whole cylinder head off – stupid, I know – whoops! Luckily no harm done though 🙂

A cup of coffee and the Haynes Manual soon revealed what to do next:

– detached the throttle cable

– wrangled the carbs out (that’s a bitch as there is hardly any space to move them out!)– carefully removed the cam chain tensioner (as it’s on a spring)– tied up the cam chain so it wouldn’t fall into the engine

– removed those clamps that hold down the cam shaft, carefully loosening all screws in a criss cross pattern a little bit at the time so the cam chain tension wouldn’t stress any one clamp/screw too much

– removed the cam shafts and the chain guide and tied up th chain so it wouldn’t fall into the engine– now I could easily lift the cylinder head vertically up along the bolts and out from the bike (carefully keeping it upright so the valves wouldn’t slip out and bend or jam when put back in)Now I could see the pistons, all crusted in black stuff. But the cylinder block was stuck! YouTube said to tap it so I got a piece of wood and a hammer (didn’t want to hit the block directly with the hammer so as to not break it or the fins), but to no avail. First I tapped gently, then I hammered the wood as hard as I could. The wood splintered but the cylinder head was stuck as ever! And you’re not supposed to pry or lever it so as to not cause a dent that will lead to oil leaks or bend the bolts its sat on. So I packed everything away, put the other bikes back in the garage and went to bed.

Next day after work, I popped into Halfords and bought a rubber mallet. Next chance I got, I was back in the garage and threatened Sasha with the mallet. And wouldn’t you know it, a few gentle taps and the cylinder block came loose like it was never stuck in the first place! Grrr!– lifted the cylinder head upwards and removed it– removed the little circlip, took out the little pipe and detached the old piston– then attached the shiny new second-hand pistons I had boughtShit, at the end of all that I was left with a spare circlip! Imagine, a piston coming loose inside the engine with its superfast combustion sequence! So on my hands and knees, poking my nose into the engine, trying to spot which piston is missing a circlip without blocking the light from the torch….. Eventually found it and put the circlip in. Then double-checked everything again, just in case.

– then I cleaned the cylinder head

and jiggled it back into place, trying to fit all 4 pistons into their holes at the same time, carefully compressing the piston rings so they’d slip in without bending and being damaged – quite a fiddly feat!

– all that not forgetting to pull the cam chain back through and putting the gasket in place first of course

– then bolted down the cylinder head, tightening the screws in the sequence prescribed by the manual (again equal pressure, avoiding unwanted tension, etc.)

– then put the cam chain guide back in place

– put the cam shafts back, with the engine at TDC (top dead centre) (- took me a while to find the nut on the side of the engine where you can turn it over to TDC… the Haynes manual doesn’t tell you where it is and I unscrewed the engine cover thingy on the other side first….. it’s on the right hand side, in case you were wondering 🙂 )

– aligned cam shafts and chain exactly as per the manual

– carefully screwed the cam shaft clamps back down (again in criss cross pattern, each screw a little bit at the time)

– put the cam chain tensioner back in place

Getting really exited now, as I seem to be getting closer to finishing. I haven’t mentioned it here but all this has taken several evenings and weekends as I was doing things slowly and methodically. Also, new parts (gaskets, cylinder heads, etc.) all had to be ordered and arrive.

Then I try to turn the engine over using that nut on the side: its fine backwards, but it gets stuck forwards! Damn! So I doublecheck everything. The markings, the chain links, the manual…. no idea! So I take the chain tensioner and cam clamps off again and start the alignment all over again.  You can’t really check whether it all turns properly untill the cam shafts are clamped down again, so I carefully tighten the bolts again – SNAP! Shit! one of the bolts has broken off inside the cylinder head and I have that sickening sinking feeling in my tummy. Both the casing and the bolts are really old and although I’m told its not possible, they seem softer/corroded/porous and basically very breakable. well, nothing I can do now and its late in the evening anyways, so I pack everything away, go sit on our bed and consult YouTube on how to extract broken off bolts.

Turns out you can use a centre punch to make a little mark in the middle of the screw stub. Then drill a small hole in the stub. Then punch an easy-out (aka bolt extractor) into the hole so its opposite-way-round thread tightens into the bolt. Then you simply turn the easy out the same direction as if you are screwing the bolt back out and out it comes. If it wasn’t actually corroded stuck in the first place. Ok, so there was hope 🙂

I ordered all the required parts and got to it the next weekend. The cheap centre punch went blunt with the first hit (note to self: a few extra quid on a centre punch is money well spent). So I used the drill anyways and of course it slipped immediately. What now? Off to Halfords to get a finer drill bit. Then a lot of patience and carefull perseverance with the drill…. eventually it stopped slipping and I got a tiny hole. Next drill bit one size up and I got a bigger hole 🙂

I needed safety goggles and this is all we had ;)

I needed safety goggles and this is all we had 😉

But then the easy out wouldn’t catch, the thread on it as too tight! So I packed it all away again and busied myself with other garage stuff. Then Monday after work I went to all shops I could think of, but none had any better easy-outs. So another long wait for the new ones ordered on Ebay that night to arrive! When it finally did, I got the bolt out no problem 🙂

But all back together, the engine would still not turn over. So I posted my frustration on Facebook. Luckily fo me, Graham Field (at his laptop supposedly writing his new book Ureka) came to my rescue. Using FB chat, he patiently guided me through how the set-up should look, regardless of manuals and markings.

In between, noting my awful spelling, he asked whether my fingers were oily, or whether it was Maria reading out his messages and typing replies? (Yes my chat-spelling is awful, as I type fast without the actual ability to do so; but what’s he trying to say about my command of the language…?!?). So I quickly corrected him and advised that I was doing both the typing and the work on the bike, and Aidan was in the kitchen cooking lunch 🙂 Hehe, made me smile 🙂 – No worries Flid, I forgive you the preconception 🙂 (Aidan really was cooking – he’s better at it than I am.)

Anyways, thanks to Flid, this time, when I put it all together, the engine turned over 🙂 So I reattached everything in pretty much the reverse order to the above. Getting the carbs back in was even more of a bitch than getting them out (little tip: heat the rubber with a hair dryer (beware fuel fumes vs hot coil in dryer though), that softens the rubber, making it easier to slip back on the various parts).

Then I called Aidan and we pushed Sasha out of the garage to start her up. So whiskey in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other (in case I made a mistake and the engine blows up), Aidan attempted to start her up again. But whilst coughing, she wouldn’t start. Not even with the kickstart. We assumed it was due to the lack of fuel/oil in the engine and semi-dry carbs. Then the battery pretty much died before we could finally get her going, although she had made more and more promising coughing noises.

Oh well, back into the garage. Then I booked a mechanic who would come over to ours for the next saturday. Him and me finally got the engine going after fiddling some more with the cam chain alignment, flooding the carbs with fresh fuel and charging the battery. I wanted him to check the carb adjustment but then he found something else!

there was a little “tsst, tsst, tsst….” hissing noise. It had been there all the time I had Sasha, from before I bought her. I always thought it was from one of the many tiny little rust holes somewhere in the exhaust pipe. Apparently not. It was from the spark plug – someone had done a shoddy re-coil job and it was sitting relatively loose in the engine. I found out later that it could have blown out, straight into the tank right above it and blow it up!

The mechanic didn’t have the right tool so I spent the next few days phoning around for a mechanic that did (its 14mm spark plugs instead of the more common 12mm). It was gonna be a Helicoil job but no one had the right size tool and buying it would add an extra £100 to the cost. Hm….

Meanwhile we had also discovered that there was pretty much no valve clearances so I ordered a new tool and got busy in the evenings, opening the cam cover up again and measuring what size shim I would need. Big job, as I did not have the right tool that pushes each valve down to get the shim out. So each shim exchange meant loosening the cam clamps, exchanging shims, tightening the clamps, measuring the clearance, then loosening all again to get the smaller shim back out and put it on the next valve, etc. – you still with me? Anyways, I had a yum beer and since nothing went wrong this time, it was a relaxing little tinkering session 🙂

Now the engine was half apart again, it was decided I would just take the cylinder head back off and bring it to a mechanic close by in Wembley, who knew a machinist that would make an insert for the spark plug hole that would be much better quality than a helicoil job. Bit pricey, but at least a good quality solution and still cheaper than buying the helicoil tools 🙂

Eventually the new shims arrived too, and after a few phone calls hassling the mechanic, the spark plug hole was ready. So that weekend I put it all back together. But of course another bolt decided to simply shear off and I had to do the whole drilling out thing again 😦

All sorted, right? Nope, that would be too easy! This time I tore the already shoddy gasket and although she started up, she was spewing oil everywhere. 😦

The MOT had run out too but I wanted to get her back on the road before Christmas! So I ordered some gasket goo on Ebay, that was promising to arrive sooner (and be cheaper) than a new gasket from America (no one sells them here, unless its four times the price of the American one). And the following weekend I opened the cam cover again and added the goo.

This time another screw threaded! It tore the thread straight out of the engine! But never mind, I’d just add a longer screw later and tighten it with a nut.

Oh, and I did a quick oil and filter change too, in case I’d dropped some dirt in the engine, hoping the filter would have caught it now.

But at least the oil leaks were reduced somewhat now, so I could finally bring Sasha in for an MOT in an industrial estate in Wembley.

I dropped her off on Monday morning after getting lost and taking the scenic route to the mechanics. Then Aidan gave me a lift to work on Suki. The next day I picked Sasha up again. The mechanic was supposed to have checked the carb adjustment too, but he was dying of flu so hadn’t got round to it. But he passed Sasha’s MOT  – Yay! 🙂 So I could take her home and RIDE 🙂 🙂 🙂The next day, I took her to work, and she ran just fine 🙂 Then, the day after, she coughed and spluttered on the way to work and lost all power. I just about managed to pull into a car park by the side of the road. There she wouldn’t start again. Oh no! Engine problems still not solved I thought 😦 So I spoke to the guys at the near by office and the helped me push Sasha out of sight under a trailer and said I could leave her there. And I took the bus to work.

At a loss as to what could possibly be wrong with Sasha now, I called Dave Wilkins and described my dilemma. He mentioned the fuel tap.  Made sense. After all I’d had problems the day I’d realised that I’d been running with it set to “reserve” all the time and when I’d set it to normal riding, Sasha hadn’t been happy. That day I had simply set it to reserve again. From that day’s research I knew that fuel taps are almost impossible to get hold of and they are really expensive too.  So Dave and I hatched a plan that I’d somehow bring Sasha over that evening or in a van at the weekend and he’d have a look what could be done.

That evening I took the bus back to Sasha and called the recovery people. They said they could bring her straight to Dave’s, even though it’s at the other side of London. After waiting an hour in the rain, doing paperwork to pass the time, I call the recovery people again. They tell me the driver cancelled without telling anyone and I’d have to wait another hour! I was drenched!

10 minutes later the driver calls and asks me to describe the problem…. and then it dawns on me! “Just bring a can of petrol!”

Whoopsie!!! I had completely forgotten that I’d only put a tiny bit in, last time I filled up and Sasha doesn’t have a petrol gauge. The recovery guy was real nice about it though. We used an old piece of cardboard as a funnel and Sasha spluttered back to life. The guy followed me all the way to Hanger Lane roundabout to make sure I was all ok and honked the horn good-bye as I took the exit. He even called later to make sure I’d actually got home. Nice guy 🙂

Aidan then took Sasha to Dave’s at the weekend anyways, see if the carbs needed adjusting, but apparently they were fine. (or at least fine enough to get us to Ireland, where she’ll wait till we return from our RTW.) The oil leak is still quite bad, so now, after Christmas, I ordered the gasket and a spare bolt and nut, so last weekend I gave that another go.

It looks like I managed to stop the leak 🙂 Yay, no more worrying the leaking oil will catch fire while I’m riding!

But now she seems to struggle just idling….. she warms up and then seems to find it hard to carry on running…. I really hope I havent got any gasket goo in the valves or summin! Will ride her to work tomorrow and see what happens. This is like a never-ending saga….

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