Killing Time

by bj max

I rebuilt my front forks back in the spring. Why? I don’t know. Same reason Hillary climbed Everest I guess; because it was there. Actually, my bike only had forty-five thousand miles on it so the front forks shouldn’t need any attention. They weren’t leaking fluid or anything and it’s not like I’m riding an off road bike or a dual sport or something. I ride a Gold Wing and the roughest road it’s ever seen is I-40 in Arkansas. So why did I get it in my head that the forks needed attention? An interesting question with an explanation that hopefully will keep you entertained for the next three or four minutes.

Actually, I never gave my front forks a thought until I went online and joined this GL1800 forum not long after I retired. The forum, or board as it is commonly referred to, is a mix of clowns, blowhards, assorted idiots and thankfully, a few truly gifted mechanics. The trick is to weed out the pretenders; then you can get on with the business of mining good advice and information that could quite possibly save you a little money and grief down the road.

On a rainy day last winter while killing a little time on the board, I came across a post with the subject title “GL-1800 fork seal blown-stranded in the middle of nowhere” Well naturally this got my attention so I opened the thread. Seems this poor guy had blown a seal on a late model 1800 with only forty thousand miles showing. Well this sparked a landslide of commentary that included both good and bad advice, lighthearted opinions and not a few smart aleck remarks. After reading the posts it suddenly dawned on me how many riders have had issues with their forks. I began to get a little anxious. I imagined Sugar Booger and myself trapped in a snowstorm somewhere in the Rockies with no cell phone signal, no food and no cable TV. This nightmare scenario sent me scampering to the local Honda dealer for new fork seals and bushings. “None in stock,” I was told. I almost panicked. The parts dude, seeing my state of anxiety, explained that he could order them for me and have ‘em in a cupla’ days. Whew! Had me worried there for a minute.

While waiting for my parts, I decided to take a ride and pay close attention to how the bike handled. I also checked for leaks. I found no leaks but the bike did seem a bit choppy and it wanted to dance in the curves, something I never noticed before reading that post, so maybe a re-build was in order. Sugar Booger asked who my advisors were and I had to admit that I didn’t have a clue. She suggested that I might be a better judge of our motorcycles ills, if any, than somebody clean on the other side of the country. Said for all I know these “experts” might be a couple ten year-olds teasing the old geezer. Ain’t that just like a woman? Won’t they ever learn that prudence and practicality spoils all the fun?

Now I had never rebuilt a set of forks in my life so all this was new to me. But my GL1800A shop manual and all those guys on the board to help me through the process if I got stuck was comforting. While I waited on the parts, I went online and ordered me a set of 1.2 fork springs, whatever that means. All I know is that they’re supposed to be better than stock. “Says who?” you ask. Well, says the people that make ‘em, that’s who. I know: Honda has billions of dollars and employs the best engineers money can buy. But somehow the board convinced me that there was a little band of rednecks down in Alabama that knew more about spring deflection, input rates, and cyclic strain than Honda Motor Company and its legions of metallurgists. So I ordered a set of springs from ‘em plus a couple bottles of ten-weight fork oil and a clever little syringe that would get the fork oil level exactly right.

When my package arrived, I inspected the contents and all was as it should be. As a bonus, tucked away in the bottom of the box, were two really cool decals for my fork stanchions proclaiming that, unlike you, my aggressive riding style requires high performance springs.

To remove the forks, I had to loosen four pinch bolts, two on the right and two on the left. Once loosened, the fork tubes slid right out of the triple tree and this gave me pause. Is that all that holds the forks in place? Four itty-bitty 10mm bolts? Seems to me the fork tubes would slide right up into your eye if you slammed into a pothole or something. Of course I knew this wasn’t possible, but I couldn’t understand why. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a little slow catching on sometime. Like my fourteenth Christmas when I caught you-know-who impersonating Santa Claus and the reality of what I had witnessed finally set in. Like those shocks, it took awhile, but I did figure it out.

I drained the old fluid outta’ the forks. It was black as a lump of coal and stunk up the shop worse than Loudon Wainwright’s popular tribute to dead skunks. I rinsed the forks with denatured alcohol, refilled the tubes with fresh oil, installed the new springs and bushings, drove home the new seals with my ingenious home spun seal driver, slid the dust covers on and buttoned her up. Time to road test this baby. And even though I now understood perfectly how those little pinch bolts held the tubes in place, I checked the torque one more time anyway. You know, just to be sure…

Tearing a motorcycle all to pieces then putting it back together again is a lot of fun even if you don’t accomplish anything which I didn’t. I took the bike for a spin and the handling was, um, well pretty much like it was before I did all that hard work. It seemed to stick in the curves a little better but the ride was still choppy. I was shootin’ for a Lexus-like glide but what I got was more like a pickup truck bounce. It didn’t really matter because, if truth be told, as Robert Pirsig so aptly put it in his tome Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I wasn’t really working on the motorcycle anyway. I was working on me.

Merry Christmas from Dixie.


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