Tricks of the Trade

Story by Costa Mouzouris//
April 1 2015

It’s always good to learn from others.

Whether it’s plumbing, carpentry, mechanical, or what have you, every tradesperson has his or her tricks. You know, the little work-arounds that are passed down from mentors and aren’t described in books. These tricks are occasionally discovered out of desperation when nothing else will work or when the part isn’t available and it must be repaired. Over decades of working on motorcycles, I’ve picked up a few tricks that have become indispensible. These tricks save time, and they often save extra work. Here are ones that I think you’ll find particularly useful.

Greasing Bearings

Bearings need grease, and up to a point, the more, the better. You can effectively and efficiently grease tapered roller bearings in the palm of your hand. Just put some fresh grease in your clean hand and, with the larger end of the bearing cage, scoop up very small amounts into the bearing using a scraping motion until the grease is forced out the other side. Work your way around the bearing until it’s fully greased. Nothing fancy needed here – just a bit of time and elbow, um, grease.

Sealed ball bearings are pre-greased, but sometimes the amount used from the factory is pitiful. Extend the life of sealed wheel bearings by gently lifting off the bearing seal using a pocket-sized screwdriver, or something else that is very narrow but not sharp (never use a pocket knife), and adding some grease. I modified a pick by grinding the point down and filing the shaft flat. Start from the outer edge of the seal and gently pry it off, working your way around the bearing so as not to bend the seal. Add the grease and simply press the seal back in with your fingers. Job done.

Screwing Around

Don’t mix Phillips and Pozidriv screwdrivers. Pozi-what now? There are two types of cross-headed screws, the common Phillips, and the lesser-known Pozidriv, and you may have both on your bike. Each type has its own dedicated screwdriver.

The Phillips screw has an intended design flaw: the screwdriver “cams out” of the screw if too much torque is applied while tightening. This is meant to limit the tightening torque of the screw to prevent over-tightening or breakage. The Pozidriv, meanwhile, is a modified form of Phillips screw and is designed for a more positive mating of screw and driver. The driver will not cam out; therefore, more torque can be applied. The two types of screw and driver are easily identifiable: Pozidriv screws and drivers have four notches where the cross intersects; Phillips don’t. Oh, and don’t mix screwdriver sizes either. The most common used on motorcycles are sizes 1 to 3.

Renewed Screw Heads

If you insist on tightening those Phillips screws until the driver cams out repeatedly, then you’ll have to deal with a stripped screw head, which is almost impossible to loosen. Before doing anything drastic, you can restore the head so it becomes useable. Using a small drift punch (flat tip) and a small hammer, flatten the raised edges on the screw head until the cross becomes visible again. Then, using the appropriate size and type of screwdriver bit for the screw in question (#2 Phillips in my demonstration), hammer the bit back into the slot to reshape it. All this hammering has two purposes: to reshape the screwdriver slot and slightly compress the screw head, which relieves some of the tension, making it easier to loosen. Once the screw is out, replace it with a new one.

Cleaning Internal Threads

Once a bolt is out, it can be cleaned with a wire brush. But its mating female threads are not as easily rid of paint, sealant or any other contaminant. I found that the best way to clean female threads is to use a bolt that has been modified to act as a tap. Don’t use a tap to clean threads, however, because it’s designed to cut into them and will weaken them. A bolt is made of softer material and won’t cut into the threads. Using a small triangular file lengthwise along the threads, file a notch or two into the threads to contain the contaminants. File the threads at such an angle that there’s a sharp edge in the tightening direction. Pass this bolt into the threads several times if needed, cleaning out the notch between passes.

Magnetizing Experience

Sometimes those screws are in hard-to-reach places. To help you guide the screws into their positions, or lift them out if you’re removing them, you can magnetize a screwdriver. All that’s needed is a relatively powerful magnet; I use one from a discarded speaker. Just run the magnet along the screwdriver shank – in one direction – a number of times and you’re done. Keep in mind that the screwdriver will remain magnetized for some time, which might not be desirable when working with electronics.

Getting Your Carbs

Leaking carburetors have been the chagrin of countless riders since the dawn of motorcycling. The main cause is a float needle that is poorly mated to its seat, sometimes due to wear, sometimes due to dirty buildup. If you’re lucky enough to have a replaceable seat/needle assembly, new parts will solve the problem.

However, sometimes the needle seat is pressed into the carburetor and a replacement is not available. In this case, if cleaning isn’t sufficient to provide a proper seal, you can restore the valve seat using a small ball bearing. The ball bearing must be tiny enough to fit into the valve seat.

Use a drift punch and a small hammer to refresh the valve seat by very lightly tapping on the ball bearing. Do not hammer with force, or you might push the valve seat farther into the carburetor body, potentially making it impossible to adjust the float level. Once you’ve renewed the surface of the seat, inspect your work and install a new float valve. I’ve done this several times successfully and saved many a carb from the trash heap.

Removing Duct Tape Glue

I’ve seen countless people struggle to remove the remnants of duct tape adhesive, using everything from gasoline to toxic solvents to paint-removing scrapers. All you need is more duct tape. Yes, once you’ve lifted the duct tape, grab a new strip and place it on the residual adhesive; press down then pull it off. The old adhesive will stick to the new and lift off. Do this several times until all the adhesive is gone. I showed this trick to a long-time racer years ago and he still thanks me for all the paint surfaces he’s saved since.

Technical articles are written purely as reference only and your motorcycle may require different procedures. You should be mechanically inclined to carry out your own maintenance and we recommend you contact your mechanic prior to performing any type of work on your bike.

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