A Little Rebuilding

December 20th through 22nd, 2011


So here’s what happened. I had topped off my oil after lunch, but hadn’t replaced the oil cap. As I was riding along, the oil was spraying out of the little hole, which I hadn’t noticed being distracted by the scenery and my thoughts. I know someone who made a similar error once, but noticed it right away. She moves her feet around on the footpegs some while riding, but I don’t. So I managed 30 miles before noticing anything, and by now I figured most of the engine oil was no longer in the engine, and I didn’t have a cap so when I started the bike I would be in the same fix.

The next city or town, Vallenar, was 60 more miles to the south, so the decision to turn around and go back to Copiapo was pretty simple. I had seen a motorcycle mechanic on the way through town, and where I was stopped there was even a place to do a u-turn, something of a rarity. I had some oil, between 3/4 and 2/3 of a liter, which I added to the engine. I fashioned a new cap out of a water bottle cap and tape (it didn’t last very long), fired the bike up and turned around.

I had been doing about 60mph on the way south, but tried to keep it around 30 for the ride back. Not really sure why. And I coasted, engine off, down hills, of which there were a couple. The bike still sounded back when I got back to town, found the mechanic, and got a replacement cap.

I added a liter of oil, which brought the level in the window to the “full” mark. That meant I still had about 0.3l left in the motor when I got to the mechanic, I took that as a good sign.

And the bike wouldn’t start.

The battery was good, gas was flowing out of the tank, the starter was cranking, there was spark but I changed spark plugs anyway. Nothing. The mechanic, who hadn’t been all that interested in the beginning, didn’t seem to get more interested as I fiddled with stuff and kept trying. Finally, more than a little stressed, I pushed the bike down the street to a hotel I had seen.


The giant naked chrome lady out front had helped catch my eye.

In case you were wondering about the chrome lady –


I had other things to worry about though.

I was wondering if the battery was too low for the bike to start, and tried a few bump starts on parking ramps (By the way, despite the bike being small and light, packed it is really hard to push up parking ramps) without success. After lunch I got on Skype and called my mechanic back in Milwaukee in The Shop. We covered a few potential bad things, most of the less bad ones I had already eliminated. I also didn’t have all the tools he seemed to think I should have brought along (or the trailer to carry them in), but the biggest item I needed and didn’t have was a compression gauge, so the search was on.

I went to the motorcycle mechanic first, since he seemed like a logical choice. He just suggested, with a shrug, “Vende moto.” (Sell the bike). It was something I would hear a lot. He didn’t have a compression gauge, nor did any of the car mechanics I stopped in. But one did point me towards the local version of Harbor Freight, where I picked one up at last.

20psi on the compression test. I had already rechecked the valves, I had just done them a few days earlier and they were still in spec. So this wasn’t looking good.

I got back on the phone with The Shop, thinking he was going to tell me what all the locals had been – “Vende moto,” (but in English, since I don’t think he speaks Spanish), but instead he was massively full of enthusiam. “Dude, we’re gonna totally fix your bike!” It was probably what I needed to hear, and I was off on my first top end rebuild…in a parking lot…with minimal tools and no replacement parts or gaskets. Woo Hoo!


I set the GoPro up to take a picture every 60 seconds, and ended up with hundred of pictures of me working on the bike.


Eventually it ended up looking like this –


I shared this picture on Facebook and it generated some helpful advice

helpful pic

But really the problem was here –


Part of the piston had melted, which caused the rings to stick. The Shop’s suggestion “Use a knife and just cut away the melted part of the piston until the rings are free again.” Right.

So I spent the next day and a half working on the piston, until eventually the top ring was free. The bottom ring was even more stuck than when I started, but at least the bike would run…probably.

So now it all had to go back together, with liberal application of RTV sealant and torque.


The reassembly was easier than I thought, thanks to helpful tips I got over the phone. Once it was done I resisted the urge to fire it up right away (the RTV needed to set), took a long shower and ate, then went through my luggage to see if there was anything I could drop. I wasn’t very confident on the bike starting in the morning, and saw myself shopping for a bus ticket the next day. The Shop was completely confident, but he always had been. The morning would tell.

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