Monthly Archives: May 2012

How I Adjust The Steering Stem Bearings

May 06, 2012

In late November 2009, I replaced and upgraded the steering stem bearings to my 2007, DL-650 V-Strom. The upgrade was from the stock bearings Suzuki installs, to a tapered roller bearing system. The article about the work that I did can be found HERE.

Since then, part of my annual “Spring Maintenance Program”, before the riding season really kicks into gear, is to check and test, the steering bearings for proper adjustment. With these bearings adjusted properly, I have found that, the much talked about, “Deceleration Wobble” is eliminated. So is the “twitch” of the handlebars that can occur while riding rough roads at a spirited pace.

(I have also upgraded my front and rear suspension systems. There is some “overlap” in correcting steering issues that occurs between the suspension system, and the steering stem bearings.).

Towards the end of the 2011 riding season, I could tell that the stem bearings of my bike were due for an adjustment. However, that thought got swallowed up by my focus being turned to setting up my garage to build my Sonex airplane. The space where I used to work, on my motorcycle, became occupied by a large workbench that, I needed, for cutting aircraft shapes out of, 4’ wide by 12’ long, aluminum sheets!

With regards to working on the steering stem bearings of my bike, I don’t follow what Suzuki describes in their Service Manual for preparation and, “proper” tensioning of the bearings. That is a choice that I made for myself, after experimenting with different bearing tension settings. Besides, the Suzuki Service Manual was written for servicing OEM steering stem bearings. The bearings I installed in my motorcycle are tapered roller bearings.

The preparation steps that I use to adjust the stem bearings, of my motorcycle, are fairly quick for me to follow. The complete job takes me about 20 minutes to do.

I rolled my motorcycle into my garage, and placed it on its centerstand.

(See that workbench to the left? That is where I used to park my motorcycle and work on it!)

The first thing that I did was to mark the location of my handlebars. It took me awhile to get my handlebars “just where I like them!” I don’t like spending time getting them back to that “perfect spot”, after I move them!

I stuck a piece of masking tape on the handlebars. Using a “Sharpie” marker, I made matching “Sir Marks” on the handlebar risers, and on the masking tape. Now, I had a very quick way to reposition the handlebars back where they fit for me, when it was time to tighten them back down.

Next, I slipped two ratcheting tie-down straps over the supporting beam of the ceiling joists of my garage. I hooked one end of the straps around my handlebars, and the other end around the supporting beam. I added a little tension to each strap.

(Incidentally, the handlebars that are mounted on my motorcycle are stock handlebars. However, I did modify them by welding a stiffening “cross brace” between the grip areas.)

I loosened and removed the handlebar riser caps.

With the caps removed, I could “winch” the handlebar up into the air, and away from the top fork tube clamp.

Then, I loosened the left and right, top fork tube clamp bolts.

Next, I loosened and removed the stem cap nut and locking washer.

I lifted the fork clamp up, and off of the fork tubes. I shoved it forward and out of the way.

Then, I slipped a piece of 2” x 2” spruce between the fork tubes, and up against my crashbars. I did this to keep the front end from turning, while I removed the locking and tensioning nuts from the steering stem.

Using the tool that I made when I installed the tapered roller bearings…..

……I removed the locking nut and washer.

Next, I slid a floor jack underneath the skidplate, and raised the front wheel off of the floor. I made sure that the rear wheel was touching the ground, creating a three point “tripod effect”, between the two feet of the centerstand, and the rear tire touching the floor.

To do my initial stem bearing test, I give the front forks a good shaking. With my hands, I pull forward and push backwards on the fork tubes to see if there is any looseness evident to the bearings. I do this with the front wheel directed forward and also to “full stop left”, and “full stop right”.

There was some movement, which is what I had expected. Doing this test, also let me get a better feel for any “notchiness” in the bearings. If there was, it would be an indication that the bearings were worn, and needed to be replaced.

At this point, I turned my attention to the stem bearing tensioning nut. Using my “Sharpie” again, I placed a “Sir Mark” on the nut; aligning the mark with the groove that has been machined into the steering stem. This mark, gives me an indication of where the bearing tension is currently set at. It is a mark that lets me know that the bearings are too loose at this tension setting.

Then, I switched the piece of 2” x 2” spruce, through the fork tubes in the opposite direction, to “lock up” the front end of the bike.

Next, I tightened the tensioning nut just as tight as I could; drawing the bearing races together. At this setting, I slowly swung the head of the bike, back and forth, to make sure that the bearings were “maxed out”. Then, I tightened the bearings again until I couldn’t move the tensioning nut anymore.

In the photograph below, you can see just how little of a turn it takes, to “max out” the tension of the stem bearings. All it takes is about 1/3 of a turn to go from too loose, to too tight.

A rough guide for me is, to tighten the tensioning nut to a position that is just a tad less then halfway between too loose, and too tight. I am favoring just a hair towards too loose. I will not know what the final tension setting is, until I go for a test ride.

The photograph below illustrates where I chose my initial tension setting to be.

At this point, I needed to button things up, and go for a test ride. To do this, I transferred the “Sir Mark” of the tensioning nut, down to the dust cover of the stem bearing race. I did this so that, when I tightened down the locking nut, I could see if there was any movement of the tensioning nut. It doesn’t take much to change the setting and the performance characteristics of the bearings!

Then, I reassembled the rest of the motorcycle, so that I could go out for a test ride.

When I went for my test ride, I was looking for several things. I put the bike “through its paces”, riding different roads of varying road surface conditions; some are smooth and some are rough. Very rough here in Maine, during the springtime thaw with resulting frost heaves and winter damage!

Here are the things that I look for:

– The infamous “Deceleration Wobble”, (Other V-Strom riders mention this too.), is gone. In the past, when the steering bearings of my bike were too loose, in certain situations, the front end of the bike would wobble. The wobble was not noticeable unless I removed my hands from the handlebars. With my hands on the handlebars, I could feel the wobble. If I removed my hands from the handlebars, the bars would visibly begin to wobble, increasing to a “tank slapper” situation if I didn’t place my hands back on to the handlebars! I can feel and test for “wobble” when decelerating for a traffic light, or to a stop sign. The “decel wobble” would appear at around a 30 – 35mph speed.

– I found another symptom of loose steering stem bearings to be, what I call, “twitch”. Twitch happens when I am spiritedly riding rough surfaced roads. The feedback that I am receiving through the motorcycle’s handlebars is a slight left to right, “twitch”. The back end of my bike feels like it is behaving properly, but the front has a feeling of being “unsettled” and “uncertain” about what it is doing.

– Arm fatigue is another symptom of steering stem bearings being too loose or too tight. An example of arm fatigue from stem bearings being too loose is, if I am in a right hand “sweeper”, I find that I am constantly pushing forward with my right hand, on the right handlebar grip. I am literally “shoving” the head of the bike back up on to the line that I want the bike to follow through the turn. With loose steering stem bearings, the front end of my motorcycle will “fall into” turns too far. With my arms, I have to push the head of the bike back into position on the road. A day of riding like this, and I do feel it!

If the steering stem bearings are too tight, the opposite effect takes place. While in a right hand sweeper, the bike will want to stand up. Now, my left arm is pushing on the left handlebar grip, to force the head of the bike back down to follow my line! Again, a day of riding like this can be tiresome!

– The final bearing related “symptom” I look for is, “weave”. A weaving motorcycle happens at slower speeds, (In a deceleration phase), and is caused by stem bearings that are too tight. I found this happening to my motorcycle, during a test ride, after I had made a bearing adjustment with too much tension to it. As I decelerated from an “out of town” speed, to an “in town” speed limit, the front end of the bike “walked” left and right as I traveled in a straight line down the road. This happened in a 25mph speed zone. When I increased speed, the weave disappeared, but the steering of the bike felt “heavy”. I rode the bike back home, loosened the tension a “touch”, and all was good!

All of the above symptoms have happened to me, while I experimented with different tension settings on the stem bearings. My bike has “twitched”, “wobbled” and “weaved”, (“Wove”?). And, my arms have been tired from either holding the bike up, or pushing it down!

As I illustrated above, there is not much of a space difference between a stem bearing tensioning nut being set too tight, or too loose on my motorcycle. But, testing and retesting, what I need to do to eliminate bearing issue symptoms, and to have a great feeling ride, has been truly worth my efforts!

Fortunately, my test ride for this year, fleshed out a perfect setup for me! No more adjustments for the start of the 2012 riding season!

Categories: Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks | 29 Comments

Trail Riding With “Biker Chick”

May 07, 2012

I Monday, May 07, I received a cell phone message from my riding friend, Amy. She wanted to go for another ride. It WAS a gorgeous day! I was game for a ride!

As the afternoon unfolded for the both of us, it turned out that we could not meet up until 5pm. Although the daylight is lasting much longer here in the Northeast, the temperatures can still drop quickly, even though the sun is staying up in the sky. Amy does not have any cold weather riding gear. So, we came up with an alternative solution to spend some time riding together.

After our rendezvous in Ellsworth, and a “game plan” laid out…

…we headed back to the area that she lives. Behind her home, there are many miles of camp roads, and ATV trails. Amy suited up in a couple of heavy sweatshirts, chest protector, and helmet. Then, she jumped on her ATV and lead me through a maze of camp roads and connecting trails.

Both of us sweeping quickly around a corner, and I am trying to keep Amy in view!

This is where things began to get a little “dicey” with me riding my “Big Fat Pig” in the woods!

Not only did I ride through this stuff once but, I rode through it twice! Once to “get out there”, and twice “to get back”! Amazingly, I didn’t dump the bike! I could have really used a DR-650 for these types of conditions. The DR-650 is a much better piece of machinery for this kind of stuff then my DL-650!

After we got safely back to Amy’s place, we warmed ourselves next to a fire in her outdoor fire pit, and I drank one of HER beers! Heck, I earned it!

She earned one too!

Categories: 2012 | Leave a comment

Airbox “Mud Flap” and “Splash Guard”


Before I departed for last weekend’s trip, I had to do some maintenance to my bike. I mounted up a new set of Shinko 705 tires, changed the motor oil, changed the fork oil, adjusted my Race Tech emulators, and swapped out my air filter.

When I separated the top portion of the airbox and flipped it over to inspect it, I noticed quite a bit of dirt had collected along the inside flange of the lid, (the area where the gasket of the air filter sits.). Unfortunately, before I took a photo of the grit, I cleaned it off. But, in the below photo, you may be able to see evidence of “muddy water” residue that has dried on the underside of the airbox lid.

I have modified my motorcycle. I do not have any of the OEM fairings on the front of the bike anymore. Because of this, water has a freer pathway where it can more easily get driven back towards the airbox. Previous to this particular airbox inspection, (With the OEM fairing configuration), I had never found dirt that had gotten “forced” between the lid and the bottom portion of the airbox before.

I cleaned the grim out of the flange, and decided to add some protection to the airbox.

Using a pair of scissors, I cut a piece of 3/32″ sheet rubber I had scrounged from work.

I then slid the piece of rubber, up behind the snorkel tube and fastened it in place with two zip-ties.

I felt, I now had an effective “mud flap” to deflect debris from infiltrating the seam between the lid and the bottom of the airbox.

Then I looked at my air filter, (I make up my own: Air Filter Modification ), and remembered the “mud stain” on the underside of the airbox lid. I thought, “Okay, I have taken care of the seam of the airbox, but what about the snorkel too?”

I started poking around the front end of my motorcycle and came up with a solution that worked.

Just behind where the steering stem passes through the bottom portion of the motorcycle frame, there are two holes that are drilled and tapped for a 10mm bolt. The left hole is used to secure a “clamp” that holds part of the wiring harness to the bike.

I removed the harness clamp.

Using a tape measure, I figured out what an appropriate width would be for another rubber, “mud flap”. I also laid out where I needed to drill holes through the rubber sheeting.

(I really needed a hole punch for doing this. Drilling through rubber sheeting isn’t the appropriate technique for acquiring a hole.).

Next, I cut off a piece of steel strapping I had hanging around……

…..and drilled two holes through it that corresponded to the threaded holes in the bike frame.

I “dry fit” the steel strap by threading the bolts through it and into the bike’s frame. Everything was “A-O-Kay”.

I then, slid the bolts through the rubber, “splash guard”….. (The “silver goo” that you see on the rubber is “Never-Seize”. I am using Stainless Steel machine bolts that are being threaded into the aluminum frame. Some corrosion is inevitable; the “Never-Seize” will help with that.)

….and bolted the unit to the bike.

I tucked the “mud guard” up into the space over the radiator and let it hang down behind the cross member of the crashbars I made for my bike. I was looking for a “natural drape” of the rubber guard.

When I was satisfied that the mud guard was in its proper place and would do its intended job, I marked where I needed to “drill” two more holes.

As I said before, drilling through sheet rubber is not a good solution. As the drill bit spins through the rubber, it tends to “fetch up” and twist the rubber around the body of the drill bit. It also, pulls the drill bit, in a sort of uncontrollable fashion, away from you. I decided on a safer solution because I was so near the radiator. I didn’t want the drill bit to “pull” itself through the rubber and right into the radiator!!!

I grabbed a mill file off of my workbench along with my propane torch. I heated up the end of the file……

…and “melted” four holes through the rubber sheeting.

Using zip-ties, I fastened the bottom edge of the mud guard to my crashbars.

Once the mud guard was fastened, I cut the excess rubber off of the bottom edge.

Here is the finished, “Airbox Mud Guard”.

Finally, I used a zip-tie to secure the wire harness to the anchor tab on my radiator.

EDIT: May 04, 2012. The snorkel tube “Mud Flap”, and the airbox “Splash Guard”, have been excellent additions to my motorcycle!

Categories: Modifications | Leave a comment

Modifying The Air Filter, (Using An Automotive Replacement)


A lot of the riding I do takes me to remote places; or to places that don’t have a local motorcycle dealership nearby. This is the number one reason I WILL NOT purchase and ride BMW motorcycle! In my area of New England, and in the provinces of Québec and New Brunswick, Canada, BMW dealerships are sparsely located. It would be very expensive to buy, or to have parts shipped to a rural location, if I needed them. I have a much greater chance of finding a Suzuki dealership, then a BMW dealership where I ride!

A couple of weeks ago, when I dumped my bike into the, “Moncton Mud Puddle“, I didn’t have a clue of what I was going to be up against financially in repair costs. But, back in the woods, literally “up the creek without a paddle”, I was feeling relieved that, “It could be worse. I only own a Suzuki and not a BMW.” I felt fairly confident that, once I got out of the woods, and got some help, I could make the repairs myself. About $75 and 6 hrs of work, I was riding home, and grinning from “ear-to-ear”! My bike and I survived another adventure together!

I did not get any water into the bike’s air box. It was clean and bone dry. But, what if I did? At the very least, I was going to need a new air filter. At a Canadian dealership, my guess is, that would cost around $65. That’s IF I could find a dealership! But, I can find an auto parts store, or a Canadian Tire, or similar store, like a Wal-Mart. If I need to, I can now fit a new air filter to my bike from nearly every geographical location I currently ride in!

I spent quite a bit of time at my local Wal-Mart going through all of the Fram air filters they carry. The CA3916 is the standard paper Fram filter that fits nearly perfectly over the OEM filter hole. I decided to purchase the Tough Guard version. It is a pre-oiled filter designed for SUVs and pickup trucks, where their working environment is dustier then normal, street use. That part number is: TGA3916.

I saved my old air filter from my last change 30,000 miles ago. I have modified it using the techniques I describe below.

I used a utility knife to cut the old OEM filter media out of the filter throat.

I removed the old media.

I tried using my utility knife to cut the “throat” off of the filter flange. The plastic is too hard. It’s the kind of cutting that leads itself to slicing a thumb or finger…..

I switched over to my Dremel tool; using a “fibre-reinforced” cut-off wheel.

Once the throat was removed, I sharpened up a paint scraper with a file and “cut” what remained of the throat down to the flange; making everything flat and smooth and removing any plastic burrs.

Here is the OEM filter, with the throat removed, and the flange scraped flat. I decided to leave the OEM screen in place.

I spent quite a bit of time ruminating on what adhesive to use to bond the new filter to the OEM filter flange. I work in the marine industry and I have access to some “bomb proof” stuff, but I decided to again, “keep it simple”; thinking about future maintenance and subsequent changes.

I chose the below product. It is a very thick, very tough contact cement. I purchased it at my local Lowe’s.

I squeezed a nice bead of the cement around the base of the Fram filter and also around the filter flange. I let these two surfaces dry about 10 mins as per the adhesive’s instructions.

After the allotted drying time had passed, I “mated” the two parts together and placed a firebrick on top. I let the “new” filter sit overnight.

When I got home from work the next day, I examined the glue bond. I gave the filter a really good tug to try and tear it apart. It wouldn’t budge. But, I decided, as a precaution to put another bead of the cement around the edge of the filter creating a “filet”.

Here is the filter being installed into the air box.

EDIT:  This year, for the 2012 riding season, I decided to take advantage of Napa’s, “Gold Filter” Sale. Cross referencing the Fram Tough Guard air filter with Napa’s Gold Filter, combined with a 50% off discount, I purchased four air filters for a total of, $21.00. They will last me more then two seasons.

Categories: Modifications | 5 Comments

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