Solving Mechanical Motorcycle Issues | Tech Matters

Teaching Pigs To Wistle

I like to think I'm a reasonably patient man. after all, patience is definitely a virtue in my line of work, and after 35 years of fiddling with every type of imaginable mechanical conveyance you either develop a fair amount of it, or you find another job. Think of it-I've probably spent several years of my life just waiting for parts to arrive. Having a truckload of patience is also a prerequisite when it comes to answering readers' e-mails, particularly when I need to do a little detective work to solve their mechanical maladies.

Nevertheless, my patience does have its limits, and one thing that stretches it beyond the breaking point is the expectation of an extremely simple answer to a rather complex question, particularly when the asker of the question doesn't have the good sense to provide the most basic information. Here's the perfect example: "have new battery new plugs. but no spark so i cant even turn it over every thing is dead except the lights what's wrong" That, my friends, is the un-edited e-mail that precipitated this column. What you see is exactly what arrived, not a word more; not even the writer's name was included.

Diagnosing the guy's problem based on the information provided is kind of dodgy. For starters I don't know if he's having problems with his motorcycle, his car or his lawn mower. But for the sake of argument I'll assume it's his motorcycle-otherwise he'd be writing to my counterpart over at Custom Mower and Lawn Cruiser. That said, it would be extremely helpful to know the make, model and year if nothing else. Hell, for all I know he could be having problems with anything from a 1955 Ariel Square Four to a 2005 Gold Wing. As you'd suspect, troubleshooting one or the other takes somewhat different techniques.

I'm also confused as to why he can't turn it over. Oh, maybe he means the starter motor won't engage. If that's the case, how does he know it doesn't have spark? Normally engines need to rotate before a spark is created.

Obviously if everything is dead except the lights there must be a major electrical fault somewhere. Oops, there's a brand-new Triumph America out in the shop that won't do anything except burn the lights if you try to start it in gear with the kickstand down, which kind of shoots down that theory. Maybe there's nothing even wrong with his bike (or lawn mower).

You can see where I'm going with this can't you? Without some inkling as to what I'm dealing with, and the circumstances under which the problem occurred, diagnosing it is next to impossible.

For the most part answering readers' questions is my favorite aspect of this job. In a very real sense it's one way I try to repay the guys who had the patience to answer my incessant and often inane questions nearly 40 years ago. But trying to diagnose problems long distance without any real information is like trying to teach a pig to whistle; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.