Bad Bones's Transmission Job

When good transmissions go bad...

At the Santa Maria Sabmag event (October 13-15 2000), hosted by Rick Ricks, I was doing some serious riding keeping up with Ron Erhardt and Rick Ricks when suddenly I noticed that my bike kept popping out of 2nd gear. It was the infamous 2nd gear problem where the transmission's 2nd gear becomes rounded. This causes the bike to slip out of 2nd gear into neutral.

The problem got worse very quickly, and within a few months, any amount of acceleration caused 2nd gear to slip. Magnas are pretty powerful bikes, so I was able to go from 1st directly to 3rd, and with a high enough engine rpm, it wasn't all that bad. But it did cripple me somewhat. When trying to keep up with riders like Ron, Rick or Randy Mazur, I need all the help I can get. :)

I called Dave Dodge about getting a rebuilt transmission with undercut gears. The whole thing cost about $300; a very good price! The problem was putting it in. The transmission is in the deepest recess of the engine. Not only does the engine need to come out of the bike, and not only do you have to tear the engine apart, but you have to split the crankcase to get at the tranny. Considering that the most involved job I've ever done on a bike is replacing an alternator or adjusting valve clearances, this was something I wasn't going to do alone.

Getting the job done

So I called the local shop and the guy said he was very busy (he's the only bike mechanic for a city of 57,000, mostly students) and didn't have time to do it. He also mentioned he didn't like doing the job but reluctantly said that he'd do it for it for about $1200 if I had no other options. He does good work, but the tranny would have to wait for a few months, was more money than I could afford and wasn't something he wanted to do (which is very important for something this complicated). So that option was closed.

Fellow SabMaggot Jason Grennell came to my rescue. He was really gung-ho and eager to do the job. He's taken engines out of bikes, but never replaced a transmission before. However, Jason is the kind of guy where this fact doesn't cause hesitation, it causes eagerness. He has a confidence in mechanics that I've never seen in anyone before, and as I saw later, it's well warranted!

You have to understand that Jason had just gotten 3rd degree burns a few weeks ago on his fingertips from falling on metal he just welded. Jason should go on survivor! :)

Friday: The work

I left Davis on 11 May 01, friday morning at 8:30am and got to Santa Clara by 10:30am. Jason and I have talked at Sabmag events, but we never really had time together to bond, so we started out chit-chatting. Turns out we have a lot in common. Without getting too mushy, I felt like I met an old friend.

He's also a cat person -- he has a very cute and vocal kitty named Sarah who kept me company during my nights on his couch. His roomie is also a very cool sysadmin from Seattle. I talked to him about computers in the evening (he worked a lot). Turns out he wants to be artist. Hope he doesn't mind the pay decrease. :-)

Anyway, we got to work dismantling the bike and the engine was out of the bike by 12:30pm. It went by really fast! I was helpful here since I've taken a lot of stuff off the bike for cleaning and fixing. Things didn't go quite so fast when I was on unfamiliar ground because Jason was really great about explaining what we were doing and why. It was quite a learning experience!

The work continued pretty quickly, taking things off the engine and making sure we remembered what goes where. For example, you usually have 2 or 4 of everything in the heads. It turns out that you can't switch parts between the heads, so you have to be very careful to remember what came from where. See? I told you this was way out of my league.

At first the crankcase wouldn't split at all. It turns out that there were a few bolts we hadn't noticed. Honda did a good job of hiding some of them. Dave Dodge warned us that some were hard to find, and even with the warning, it took a minute or two of head scratching to figure out why the case wasn't splitting. Once we got all the bolts, the engine case split surprisingly easily.

The transmission went in, easily, a few minutes later (although one of the spacers didn't care for Jason much).

We got the transmission in at 2:30am and had to stop. We had worked pretty much straight with only a 90 minute pizza break.

Saturday: Putting it back together

I woke up at 7:00am (Jason woke up at 5!). We went to a cafe for breakfast and picked up a cycle trader. Turns out some dude was selling a V65 Sabre for $500 bucks. Jason called, but it had already sold within 1 day (of course). At the cafe, Jason ordered a muffin cut in half and microwaved with butter inside. The guy at the counter blinked at us as if Jason were crazy. He had never heard of anyone heating a muffin to put butter on it, and this is Java Express, so this dude sells muffins all day long. Jason and I got a good laugh about this and went back to work before 9:00am.

Terry Day showed up to work on his Magna's fan which was shorting out the bike when it turned on. He got it fixed, stayed to chat for a bit and went home.

We now were putting the engine back together and work got a lot slower. Jason was really methodical, inspecting and cleaning each part that went back into the engine. We got the engine mostly put back together by 9:30pm with pretty much no breaks. We had dinner (left over pizza and some lasagna) at 11:00pm and went to bed by midnight (I was exhausted!).

Sunday: Finishing touches

Sunday I woke up at 7:00am. Jason made some veggie scrambled eggs We put the rest of the engine together and cleaned parts that you'd never be able to reach easily with the engine in place as we went along. I think the bike is cleaner now than it was 20 years ago. Finally, we put the engine back into the bike.

When the bike was almost together, we heard a lawn mower drive up to Jason's house. It turned out to be Ron Erhardt on his Triumph, coming by to say hello. ;-) Ron blew a headlight on his way up. Jason took the Magna for a test drive (and also to get Ron a headlight but the local Kragen closed already). By 9:30pm, the bike was ready to go. I was exhausted, missed Rhonda, was filthy beyond reason and ready sleep in my own bed.
The ride home took 75 minutes. Subtracting "lost time" finding the freeway, it took 50 minutes. I was hauling the proverbial ass. I don't think the bike saw any less than 95mph between Santa Clara and Davis. No cops on the road, and if there were, maybe they could tell how much I was enjoying the bike and left me alone. It was bitter cold, but I was loving life. As with all my bike trips, it's really sweet to see the Russell street exit on highway 113. Rhonda stayed up to greet me, and she had ordered my favorite: a large pizza with artichoke hearts, garlic, broccoli and feta cheese.
There's a minor exhaust leak, so the bike backfires a bit when you let off the gas. A (asbestos?) gasket at one of pipe openings in the collector cracked. We tried to make due, but it's not perfect. I'll try to take care of that this week. Other than that, it's like a whole new bike. It THUNDERS down the road. I was thinking of renaming the bike Thor, but even though the name fits, I think the bike is still Bad Bones. It would feel really weird to call it anything else.
I can't really express how grateful I feel to Jason for helping me with this. I've read many books on engines and know a LOT about the the inner workings of an engine, but boy is it different in real life. It would've taken me over a week to do this job by myself assuming I'd even be able to put the bike back together. Jason has an uncanny knack for `knowing'. He could look at a huge random pile of assorted bolts, point at one, and say "that goes here". The SabMag community (especially the west coast) is really lucky he's here. Thanks, Jason!

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