Highest Tech Possible or Home Workshop Repairable?

1936 Harley Davidson Knucklehead engineCan you fix it? Your motorcycle won't run, what are the chances you can get it going? What if the bike in question has the highest technology available, perfectly metered fuel injection, precisely controlled electronic ignition, variable valve timing and throttle by wire, have your chances increased or decreased? Suppose, the company that made it goes out of business, does that change anything? What if the particular model was only manufactured for one or two years, are you feeling a little uncomfortable?

For the better part of a century, since the internal combustion engine was invented, if you understood how engines worked and you had a reasonable assortment of tools, a methodical bit of troubleshooting would get her fired up. Air, fuel, compression and spark, combined in the right proportions and at the right time and you had a running engine. Once running, you could adjust and tweak until it was humming along or at least running well enough to get you home where you could do a proper repair. It's pretty darned satisfying to know you're going to get home or if you're home already, to know you can fix what's broken, but times have changed.

Engines have improved, computer control has given us precise fuel metering and ignition timing over the entire rpm range, not to mention variable valve timing, antilock brakes and throttle by wire, the bikes you can buy today are on an entirely different plane than the vintage machines of yesteryear, there's no comparison on almost any level, but, as I asked above, can you fix it? No assortment of tools will repair electronics that have failed. If the chip fails, the bike dies. No parts available mean you have a serious problem.

Look at the vintage bikes constantly restored and resold over many decades, a well equipped machine shop will return them to like new or better than new condition with an engine more reliable than ever. Original parts are long gone but you can rebuild them indefinitely. Now look at the newest bikes. Electronics are surprisingly reliable and take a lot before failing but when they do, it's a trip to the parts counter or a search for a parts bike. Failing that, the bike sits.

It might be worthwhile thinking about whether the engine can be devolved into something a bit more basic. Can you fit a carb in place of the fuel injection? Can you run a throttle cable in place of throttle by wire? Can you turn the cutting edge but non functional hunk of metal into a running engine again? It's an interesting thought as some current motorcycles begin to age and companies cut costs, closing up completely or maybe not carrying the parts they used to. It's something to consider even before you buy that bike in the first place. High tech is cool, but repairable and running might be better.

Before you start assuming these observations come from some sort of technological Luddite, I can tell you I've spent multiple decades using assorted voltmeters, oscilloscopes and a very well equipped toolbox repairing some pretty complex equipment, replacing integrated circuits and other discrete components, repairing and modifying the circuit boards themselves when necessary and I've thoroughly enjoyed the process. It's fun, but it also has limitations, there is no substitute for replacement when a chip fails. You don't open it up, you carefully desolder it, remove it and install a new one. If it's in a socket, it's quicker but the same process of remove and replace is involved. Chip manufacturing isn't something done in a local small business, the replacement is ordered from a supplier who gets it from the electronics manufacturer. How long will they be making them?

We've become accustomed to throwaway computers and appliances, you can open them up but there's nothing you can fix. When something like a motorcycle runs into the same limitation, what do you do? It's food for thought.

Comments

  1. John McD says

    So, it has me thinking… I have a 1992 Honda VFR 750, which still operates quite well.
    The known failure item is the Regulator, because of weak or poor Battery that the Generator is trying to charge too much. Carry a Spare.
    So, what is the “newest” bike without all the “Electronics”? Kick Start Magnetos?
    Headlights and Turn signals? Points and Condensors? Any clues?

  2. Grant says

    Even old tech can be problematic if the particular model was only made for a year or two and it comes to the point where parts that are wearing out that are no longer available. When that time arrives, your dedication to the machine is tested. Maybe there is a pool of expertise out there that can be tapped (and we are thankful for the internet to be able to access that knowledge). Maybe you know enough yourself to make modifications. Maybe you know “enough to be dangerous”, and make educated guesses to get or keep things running. I’ve done all three, repeatedly, and will continue to do so. I may eventually get a more modern bike that is beyond my abilities to fix, should something (electronic) go wrong, but I will always have a bike that I can fix. Having a backup is a good thing.

  3. Bjorn says

    This is definitely a consideration with all the vehicles my wife and I buy. Her diesel Landcruiser has a blanked off space where the ECU would sit on a later model. It’s ancient tractor technology, just the same as my Pantah and old Gixxer; if there is no money, most of the work can be done in the shed. The Ducati is under a sheet at the moment due to a burnt out regulator rectifier; something I cannot fix in the shed.
    As a middle aged, born again uni student with kids, I like to tell myself that the next decent paying job I get will allow for a fuel injected bike. All the time though, in the back of my head I find myself thinking, “Points ignition and flatslide carbs.”
    I’m nervous about owning machinery I cannot repair with basic tools despite having repaired high tech bikes for a living.
    KISS-Keep it simple, stupid.

  4. Alan says

    I’ve been looking for a used enduro. I’m going to check out a 10-year-old bike this week. My buddy, though, thinks I should get the two-year-old MXer another friend wants to unload and make it street legal. “It’s wicked fast!”

    “Look,” I said, “the older bike is stone simple. Air cooled, single cam, a carb, long production run, plenty of parts, lots of owners online…”

    I’ve been fiddling with the jetting on my main bike since changing the intake and exhaust. Sure, it would be great to have EFI and just plug in the laptop to sort it all out. And, sure, it’s getting more inconvenient to get needles and jets as EFI becomes the standard, but if something goes wrong, it won’t be because some electrons have decided to misbehave.

    • says

      http://www.jerry-howell.com/IgnitionModules.html this seems really simple, and just bypassing parts would allow a relatively modern electronic ignition on any bike, with easy swapout, in case of misbehaviour. the original tim-4 is available as a schematic somewhere on the net, found it sometime last year, semi-open design, pretty decent.

      me, i’d be more prone to -improve- my own engine that’s based on really old fashioned stuff, electronic ignition, fuel injection, computerised tuning, it can be done with really simple stuff, and be swapped out with no trouble. the tim-4/6 and, well, i hate to bring up arduino, but, it’s really really simple, reliable and cheap, with some repurposed sensors from small cars, something like this http://puma.freeems.org/ would also be useful, but there are other open design ecu’s that can also be used on a bike.

  5. Alan says

    On the other hand, the more complex and digital my cars have become, the more carefree they are. There’s very little I can fix on my current car, but I haven’t needed to fix anything. It really has almost gotten to the point where you can weld the hood closed. The same should be true for motorcycles. You show a Knucklehead at the top of the article. The old stereotype is that it’s always Harleys you see broken down at the side of the road while while those modern, overly complex imported bikes just keep riding on.

  6. says

    I ride an ’88 Concours, with electronic ignition and carbs. The bike was made from ’86 to ’06 with only some relativly minor changes, so parts aren’t a problem. But for many people, the carbs are rocket science, while it doesn’t take much learning to rebuild a carb, and the info is out there, it does take a lot of patience and perseverance. And you really need to be detail orientated. And if the carbs screw up, you could be looking at hydrolock, with a bent rod as a result.

    So for many people plugging a code reader into the ecu and finding out #4 injector is plugged and needs to be replaced, might just be an easier thing to do.

    Personally, I have no phobia of technology, I would love to put an aftermarket EFI system on my bike. But as things get more complex, there is a greater chance you’ll be coming home on a trailer. Many of the owners of the new Concours, the ZG1400 have reported issues with the KiPass system, which is a wireless fob that let’s you start the bike without a key. Of all the stupid crap to sideline your ride, something that you don’t need at all.

    Well, now my bike is out of commission, no, no hi-tech failure, a little bracket welded to the head stock that holds the fairing up fatigued and broke. I finished my trip with a piece of wire holding up the fairing. About as low-tech as it gets… But even the most hi-tech vehicle is subject to these sorts of failures.

    It really all boils down to quality of manufacturing. A crappy weld will take you out of commission as quickly as a poorly designed electronic module.

  7. says

    I have an older Royal Enfield single-cylinder bike.
    I can fix almost anything on it with the hand tools in the bike’s tool kit, right at the roadside. With just a few extra tools, I could rebuild the entire engine in a parking lot.

    Aside from the emergency repair issues, this can add up to alot of savings over the years. Shop costs can really add up, not even mentioning the tow charges to get a dead bike to the dealer.

    There is also a great deal of satisfaction, and feeling of independence, when you can fix everything yourself.

    Some people may say that I need to fix things more often then they do, and that may be right. But I’m in control over it, and I like that. With repair shop rates running around $75/hr in my area, I feel like I’m making money every time I work on my bike!

  8. JR says

    Poorly engineered electronic systems that you can’t diagnose problems on… bad
    Intuitive electronic with reasonably priced code readers, etc… good

  9. kneeslider says

    Tom, I was thinking along these lines for several reasons, recently, and your ACE Fireball kit for the Royal Enfield just added fuel to the fire. No high tech wizardry, just good old fashioned engine work, I like that.

  10. jeff_williams says

    I’m torn. I love having a bike that has remained relatively unchanged for 10 years (DRZ400) and is so easy to work on but would love to have EFI to have the best performance possible. A computer is a better tuner than I am.

  11. Tool says

    C’mon, motorcycles are absolutely no different from anything else in our lives. You either learn/know how to work on your particular beast, or you don’t. Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool wrench or a DVM carrying techie or a combination of both, the question is not “what do you do when”, it’s “what’s the quickest way to get it home or to the shop”. Same exact question any auto/truck owner faces in the event of a breakdown.

    The OTHER question, whether you are a skilled-enough wrench or DVM carrying techie or a combination of both…with the tools to diagnose and repair YOUR bike…is a question already asked here on this forum earlier this year. And the answer is the same. Some will haul the bike home, some to a shop, others to a discreet spot in the backyard pending final rites.

    Easier to repair than replace? If you have the skill and tools, you figure it out either way. Replacing an old point and condenser system (and gapping, timing, etc) is usually far more time consuming project than pulling the two multi-prong plugs on the ECU and snapping in a new unit….and the time of service between regular such occurrences favors the ECU equipped bike over several years of ownership.

    Bottom line, you are always faced with the same choice…learn to fix what you ride, drive, float, or fly…or take out that folded leather in your hip pocket and pay the guy that can. Ride what you want and can afford to maintain.

  12. Marvin says

    The man who buys a new bike is rarely the same one who does his servicing at home here in the UK. Making a bike or car easy to work on is therefore not included in the design spec which the marketers hand to the design engineers. My bike is a 1983 XT 600 which I can work on but rarely have to. Even so to check the oil level, the engine needs to be good and warm after say a 20 min ride and the bike has to be sat up level (when it doesn’t come with a standard centre stand) I have to take a side panel off which sort of slots below the seat so I always worry for the lugs, screw out the dip stick clean it pop it back in check the oil level, go and find a jug with a very long spout and top up if required. This is just about the simplest check on one of the simplest engines for home maintenance and its frankly a bit of a pain. This could all have been avoided with a sight glass on the external tank. My little 1000cc nissan of around the same era now has 160,000 miles on it and has never needed anything more than service parts every 10k miles and tyres a battery and one rear shock and every job has been a doddle. It has still got points all though I will admit it has no starting handle. I think motorcycle companies expect us to tinker. In Zen and the art he talks about having a real high miler with 25K on the clock, come on we wouldn’t have accepted that in a car even in the seventies. I have great hopes personally that maybe a future move to some alternative fuel source will mean I can spend more time on my bike bike and less time cleaning up corroded connectors trying to trace faults and getting sore knees performing needlessly complex routine maintenance. If I ever bought a new bike I would try to get one that was easy to maintain but I guess if you have the money to take the hit on depreciation like that you also have the money to let the dealer do all the jobs. Maybe if I had one of those large workshops with draft proof doors we see pictures of on here I would feel differently but the reality for most of us in Europe and I suspect urban US is a 8 by 26 foot space taken up by heating boilers, chest freezers, kids cycles, adult cycles, decorating supplies and a small work bench and tool box. I do my own maintenance because I have to most assuredly not because I want to.

  13. kneeslider says

    Tool, I agree with most everything you’ve said, but the point I was making was not, which is quicker and easier to fix and maintain, it’s what do you do if the parts disappear? Or even, what happens when the nearest shop is many hundreds of miles away due to closures? Reread the article, the modern bikes are superior in every way, until the high tech ECU is no longer available. What then? You can’t buy what doesn’t exist and if you can’t substitute, how much do you replace to get around the problem?

    I love the almost zero maintenance of many modern products, but they can and do fail, at which point, low cost items are often tossed. I’d like to think motorcycles are different.

  14. Jim says

    I added Boyer electronic ignition to my “vintage” 1972 BSA B50, and it was like magic. The old points couldn’t keep the spark within 5 degrees, but the Boyer setup hits it right every time and made a whole new bike of it. Not long after I installed the Boyer, a piece of the old-school Amal carb’s slide fractured under vibration and the engine ingested it. That was a simple mechanical failure that stopped the bike cold and I had to call the tow truck. A new carb, cylinder and piston, with gaskets, will cost as much as I paid for the bike in ’74. So much for low-tech vs. hi-tech. Meanwhile, my ’07 Toyota Tacoma has had zero flaws — not one problem — since I bought it new. I change the oil and look after scheduled maintenance, and it simply runs. I hardly think about it — I don’t worry about fixing it because I don’t have to fix it. I have gotten very good at fixing my Beeza because I have had to fix it many, many times. Some seasons it spent more time on the bench than on the road. The truth is, electronic controls are highly reliable; far more so than old mechanical stuff. Voltage regulators and ignition for cars and trucks went solid-state nearly 40 years ago as soon as the technology became reliable enough. Except for a few earlier ignition modules that went sour, there have been few failures. In today’s vehicles the computer is among the most reliable parts. Something mechanical will fail first. No reason the best digital controls can’t be applied to bikes as well. There always is a limp-home mode anyway.

    The reason there are so few vintage bikes is that when they were in service they were so difficult to keep running well that by the time they fell to their third or fourth owners, they were junk and went to the scrap heap. A modern bike with digital controls will operate far better and last longer.

  15. WRXr says

    As an antique bike guy let me just say:

    “They don’t build them like the use to…and there is a very good reason for that.”

    Remember, at one time even a carburetor was considered high tech. Sidevalves? Cool
    What’s that you say? Contracting band brakes!!! Wow! Leaf spring forks? Now THAT is cutting edge! How about that new fangled carbide lamp? Gotta get me some of that. Oooooo look at that magneto! I could go on….

    Yes, at one time all those things were “high tech”. They al replaced something else that wasn’t quite as good and likewise all went away for good reasons: Something BETTER came along. Something that actually WORKED and didn’t break down/catch fire or need constant fiddling in order to run.

    I can fix most everything on my old bikes. But try doing this in the dark…during a thunderstorm…when you realize the tool you really need is hanging in your garage and nobody with in 100miles and 50 years is likely to have another. Right about then you’ll realize that maybe the “Good old days” weren’t so good after all.

    Some people like mucking around with mechanical things, but there are few that like to do that all the time when they could be riding. Maybe that’s why so many old bike guys also have a more modern ride in their garage as well.

  16. Gunner says

    No, it was never any better than today. Any modern, fuel injected bike is better than the old ones from a rider’s point of view. And they can be fixed, serviced, tuned, rebuilt and modified like in the old days. The tools are somewhat different and sometimes you have to bring the computer out, but most of the time it is the same old spannerwork, just a little different. Of course, electronics mean you cant repair all components, but some of them can be changed between bikes if you know what you are doing. And whole systems can also be made to fit another bike than they were intended for in the first place. So what is the difference? Yourself and your basic knowledge. Just like in the old days.

    And I enjoy riding and working on my ’27 Norton as much as my ’10 Yamaha 450WR or my Suzuki TL1000 racebike.

  17. Another Jim says

    In 60 or 70 years someone will discover a barn find, say an S1000RR of no special provenance, but it is missing parts. Some like body panels and the cylinder head are reproducible, others the headlights and ignition system will be extremely expensive. Alas rather than being restored it will become a parts bike.

  18. nortley says

    Engine devolvement… If an engine has compression, fuel ,and spark at the right time, it will run. A carb for EFI swap is doable, though not necessarily an improvement. The spark could be trickier – one of the first things I noticed about my 21st century Subaru was that there was no distributor or provision to drive one.

  19. Stjohn says

    There are already open-source electronic ignition and electronic fuel injection modules, or plans for same available. Computers certainly aren’t going anywhere any time soon, so the likelihood of being able to roll your own EI/EFI system is pretty high, as well as a throttle by wire system, which is essentially a servomotor. Control protocols will be proprietary, so it’ll need roll-your-own modules for traction control and ABS. In 70 years, probably not a big deal. If someone does find a S1000RR in 70 years, the biggest worry is going to be finding a chemist to make them some fuel, or the lack of a basic legal climate that will allow them to register and ride it at all.

  20. gildasd says

    You can make mechanical fuel injection, and pretty precise ones, and most of the stuff done by EFI… It was done on WW2 Planes.

  21. says

    Paul,
    I agree very much with your point about critical parts going out of production, and potentially sidelining a bike permanently, if you can’t get a replacement.
    This was not so much of an issue many years ago, where models were made for many years continuously, and there was a lot of shared technology even between manufacturers. Even stuff from the dreaded Lucas electrics company was interchangeable between brands of English bikes in many cases. And even some cars too.

    What happened was that times changed, and models began changing quickly, and old ones superceded by new technology and even mandatory emission requirements. There’s only a certain amount of time that a maker is going to support parts inventory for a dead old model. In the case of computerized electrics, it can be a terminal situation, where the bike will virtually never run again.
    This might not be a concern to the guy who has a brand new bike, or one that’s a few years old, but the guy who has an “obsolete” HondaYamaKawaZuki could be in for a surprise. These models change quickly, and there is not much “collector market” to form support networks for older but average obsolete bikes that have no collector interest.

    I think that this has sort of “polarized” the market into 2 main groups.
    One is the group that buys newer bikes, and continues to move along with the newer bike trends. The old models then become scrap, or are driven to the final end by people who buy the used bike as cheap as they can, as cheap transport until it gives up and no parts are available.
    The other is the ever-increasing vintage market which strives to maintain their vintage bikes indefinitely, and has large support networks of others doing that. These old models never become scrap, and are just passed-on from owner to owner, and continually renewed indefinitely. Companies which have been out of business for 50 years, have cottage industries producing parts for their bikes today.

    I noticed this trend actually beginning in the 1970s. Disposable vs rebuildable.
    Different people view the choices differently. Some are fine to sell their bikes and buy new ones regularly. Others want to hold on to their bikes.

    The British motorcycle industry never died. The manufacturers just went out of business. And others are similar, even if the companies are still around. People will spend more money today on a 1974 Ducati, than on one of the brand new models.

    This really brings up a very interesting discussion, which actually reaches into the soul of motorcycling today, and is mostly apparent in the increasing demand for bikes that aren’t made anymore. Many people feel that motorcycles have moved away from what they once were, and are now something else altogether, and not necessarily in a good way. While it is true that there is demand for the Star Wars X-wing fighters on two wheels with science fiction styling, there are certainly many who yearn for what a real motorcycle used to be.
    Maybe the manufacturers will eventually catch on.

  22. woolyhead says

    Seems as if you don’t like the machinery you’re missing the point of riding a motorcycle. As far as fuel mileage my carbureted Suzuki Katana still gets 60+ miles per gallon……and always starts rain or shine. After spending 45 years as a master mechanic on automobiles I can relate to parts failure diagnosis, and yes the scrap yards are full of vehicles when the electronics were no longer available (voila, Vern…..we just got another parts car).

  23. Bill says

    I think all manufacturers should be forced to place their designs, software and schematics, in escrow with a third party (government or professional body) so that, if the company goes under , or the design is deemed obsolete* the information can then be put into the public domain.

    Bill

    (*ISTR manufacturers are legally obliged to maintain spares for at least seven years after if it has stopped production)

  24. Tool says

    @Kneeslider

    Since my original post today, several people have touched on replacing EFI systems with carb systems. And at least one mentioned the “possibility” of home-brew CPU’s.

    Actually for some models of Honda and Suzis there are already circuit diagrams available for the CPU’s (models that have gone away for good). I have an acquaintance that even took an aftermarket racing CPU for a Ford Probe and with a little inventive wiring made a replacement for his Kawasaki. Probably would do better on the high end of the rpm curve, but the point is that it can be done. And of course with a little ingenuity and knowledge, “devolving” any motor is possible. You may have to learn some basic sand-casting skills to pour carb/manifold adapters and sheet metal skills to fabricate a mag or points plate, but of course it could be done. Chevy hot-rodders do it every day.

    And as another reader pointed out, the CPU is just a timed trigger device using very common components if you just know how to google and source the appropriate items…assuming first you have some experience in electronic design. And even that is not a preclusion, as self-education using many many DIY instructables is available. Many a fine machinist got started with less. And if you peruse the ‘net, you’ll find hobbyists creating everything from ham radios to hacked iphones to bedroom built radars.

    Perhaps that is beyond what the “average” guy would do, but on this forum you continually showcase individuals that have the initiative to go that distance in pursuit of a goal or personal accomplishment. THE question in that regard is, would the time and effort be worth the average individuals time and effort? Is it in the individuals mindset to pursue the knowledge or just to go ride?

  25. Grumpy Relic says

    I think that all previous comments share a common thread. We fix and maintain the things we can. The only thing that has changed is what we can fix or change. Does anyone re-spoke and true up wheels. I never did successfully. Now we have alloy wheels that we just replace. Anyone rewind a starter? (I did and it is not easy). Anyone rewind the coils of a relay type regulator. Not worth it. Carbs spill gas and can cause fires. EFI does not. So your no longer available ECU fails… What about the guy who just put a rod through his no longer available block? The technology may be far apart but the result is the same. You get to keep only the memories.

  26. Auz1237 says

    Lets all go live in a cave, that would be a lot simpler ….. I mean I just hate having hot water, a cold beer and lights in my house….. whatever will they think of next…!!

  27. JustJoe says

    StJohn beat what I was thinking as I was reading the article by several hours. It doesn’t take too much to clone an ECU, you won’t do it in the machine shop, but you will be able to flash it from your phone.
    I’m working on 2 older cars right now, a 1971 Challenger and a 73 Mach 1. I am AMAZED that I can buy late model, plug and play electronics such as ignition and EFI for these vehicles, and at how many hard parts are available compared to when I stored them 20 years ago. Add in the fact that it is easier than ever to clone hard parts. I think that long term, if the desire is there, the means will be available.
    Having said that, road side repairs are a thing of the past, and thankfully so. None of my late model bikes have yet required them, and if they do, AMA tow insurance, a cell phone and a credit card will get me on my way.

  28. kneeslider says

    JustJoe and others, the open source reproduction of electronics is one promising avenue of supplying critical out of production parts. I expect it will become easier in time to resurrect the dead machines already out there and those still to come. For those who say a rod through a block is a sentence of death, I would argue that’s a problem solvable with the proper machine tools and casting technology. Some guys are creating new engines from combinations of old ones, repairing an existing design should be a lot simpler. EFI kits like MegaSquirt, make the obsolete fuel injection system less troublesome.

    It will be exciting to see more of these capabilities coming down to the local shop or, even better, to the well equipped home shop. That’s a technical development I look forward to seeing. As I said above, food for thought as we think about how to handle the killer failures sure to come.

  29. Alan says

    Another thing to consider. If electronics are going to go bad, they will usually be right away — infant mortality. (Which is why extended service contracts on electronics are usually not worth buying.) After that, they keep on shuffling those electrons until YOU do something stupid. Meanwhile, mechanical parts wear down even while you do everything perfectly.

  30. Mule says

    I don’t think it’s just bikes that have gotten more complex, it’s every part of our lives. When I was a little kid, I’d be happy if I found a cool stick to play with or a pad of paper and a pencil would keep me busy for hours drawing. If you got a chance to repair or modify a bicycle, car or “Hot Damn”, a frickin’ motorsickle, that was a good thing! Now working on or repairing something is viewed as distateful or an inconvienience.

    That said, if I need something done on my truck, which is a super-heavily electronified diesel, twin turbo, 18mpg catalitic converted monster, I wouldn’t know where to start!

    On my last race bike, an XR650R, the only thing that ever failed was the stator and then the box went. Mechanically, I could improve it or maintain it. Oh yea, the ignition did have to fail during a race too! I would say that I could draw the line at an electronic ignition which rarely fails. Thats only my opinion. Heated grips? Power windshields? Get a life. Electric bikes? I think it’s possible for them to be simple with the exception of the controller.

  31. akaaccount says

    So is there some sort of apocalypse looming? If the world collapses to point where all manufacturers stop making replacement parts (specifically electronic parts for some reason) I think we’ll have bigger things to worry about than whether or not we can keep the bike running indefinately.

    Even if there is some sort of breakdown of society we’ll all be driving around in supercharged dune buggies and cowskin trucks anyway.

  32. B*A*M*F says

    There have been and continue to be advancements and cost reductions in CNC technology (routing, milling, lathing, 3D printing). Coupled with increasing numbers of people who can run 3D modeling software, it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that the majority of a bike’s parts could be fabricated by a talented amateur.

    There are also people with ridiculous computer skills, who can and will continue to create aftermarket or DIY computer solutions for motor vehicles.

  33. todd says

    I always find it easier to fix modern stuff. You just unscrew or un-snap it and plug in a replacement. My older cars and bikes allow things to be disassembled to be repaired. New stuff is all potted and meant to be replaced. You don’t need to be a genius to replace something. I ride old stuff because I can’t afford anything new (yet). Besides, it’s easier to be unique and individualistic riding something that not many other people have.

    It’s funny how many people are saying the new stuff is more reliable. Your 2007 truck hasn’t given you any problems? Well it’s only three years old. No sense comparing a three year old truck with one that’s 43 and passed around through six, less than responsible, owners. Age and use is a greater factor of failure than is design complexity. On the other hand, I’ve never had a water pump or ECU go out on my VW truck.

    I figure, if I’m riding around on something so rare that parts (new or used) are no longer available then I probably have the financial means to pay the tow truck driver and have new parts made.

    -todd

  34. Kenny says

    Just want to point you guys to a webpage I was shown a long time ago

    http://feralinjection.com/index.html

    Specifically the Fuel injection mods, the way these guys dragged a 20-odd year old bikes kicking and screaming into the “modern” age is, while very entertaining, also quite ingenious.

  35. Derek Larsen says

    I think the smart answer to this is “standardization.” Plenty of aftermarket ECUs and ignition systems are built as a one-size-fits-all system, that you can then program via computer to be optimized for your vehicle. In many instances, it’s as simple as uploading a program from the ECU’s manufacturer into the device.

    Barring that, the challenging answer is understanding a failed component in terms of it’s specifications, and finding something that may not be marked or indicated for your vehicle, but is functionally similar. I’ve had that issue repairing and restoring my 1978 CB125s, where there is a high supply of currently manufactured components due to the model being incredibly popular in Asia, but meant for years other than mine.

    I needed a new carb, and since searching for a direct replacement was in vain, I just looked at some models from mikuni on a website for chinese pitbikes. I took note of how the listed the measurements of their products, and compared them to measurements of the carb I currently had. Unfortunately I had to settle for a flange mount as opposed to the stock spigot mount, but by looking at a different year’s CB125s with a flange mount intake, I contacted the supplier with the relevant specs (bolt spacing on the carb-side mount and on the cylinder head where the intake bolted on, as well as the intake diameter) and found out that I had a good match. This probably wouldn’t have been possible without Honda’s attitude towards modular standardization. Sure, it took a little detective work, and so will dealing with electronic equipment. It just depends on mechanics willing to learn new tricks and manufacturers building bikes that can actually be worked on.

  36. Yeti says

    When old bikes become unrepairable due to non-existant replacement parts you do what any respectable redneck worth his salt would do… You use parts off it to fix another non-functioning bike or vice versa. My first dirt bike was a Yamakawazuki that I made out of two worn out bikes and one wrecked one. Sure it was put together with hose clamps and bailing wire by a 15 year old, but I learned how to ride on that thing and rode it for many years.

    Now that I’m older and I can afford it, I have an ’08 Buell that I bought new. Who knows what I’ll combine it with when it quits working.

  37. dan says

    A few months back my computer failed which I built with case power supply motherboard cpu cpu cooler hard drive cd/ dvd unit wireless card and video card and ram. These parts plug right in and once I found the problem with much tech talk back and forth I have a new motherboard better cpu (duel core) better cpu cooler bigger hard drive and a hard drive cooler. I also upgraded to windows 7! Originally my video card failed so I threw money at it till i figured it out (with help from Intel tech)! LOL but I wanted to upgrade my computer anyway. This stuff can be fixed but it takes trial and error! Next time I’ll unplug parts and see what happens like the tech guy taught me. I have a gm computer disc for the ol lady’s Pontiac and it helped me fix a simple problem with crimped wires causing a false engine light. A known problem dealers were notified but which left local dealers clueless. That disc costs me 6 bucks on ebay! LOL

  38. kneeslider says

    Some of you guys are missing the point of what I wrote. It’s not a matter of how easy or difficult it is to fix something with the computer or electronic controls or even how reliable those electronics are. They are reliable and easy to fix plus they offer huge performance advantages. The problem is whether the part to swap will be there when you need it, an entirely different issue. We are just starting to get to the point where the earlier versions of motor vehicles with electronic and computer controls are becoming old enough that parts might be an issue. If we have enough open source replacements or ingenious work arounds, we’re fine. I’m just bringing attention to the need to think along these lines. I’d rather be in control of the process of fixing instead of hoping someone, somewhere is going to bail me out of a tight spot if something fails. I think most of you would, too.

  39. joe says

    Ther arn’t many motorcycles that cannot be fixed by one method or another,so long as you are willing to canobalise parts from any mechanicle source available.With the use of a welder, lath etc anything can be acheived.Fuel injection can be replaced by carbs,electronic ignition to magneto etc. I spent some time in Cuba and its amazing what they can do to achive vith a few old wrecks to salvage parts from.

  40. says

    In reponse to “Tool”, time is a luxury and when looking at a lifetime, there is a finite amount available. That means you pack in as much time as you can doing whats a priority to YOU. It could be riding, welding, fishing, painting or watching the tube. Personally, making or fixing stuff is very rewarding to me. With a full time job, in the time thats left for me, I want to build stuff. That leaves less time for riding and racing. I can fully appreciate the opinion that says anything that keeps you off the bike ever is bad. More riding = more fun! Fixing an electronic ignition box or duplicating an existing one is well beyond my capabilities. Thats not filed in the “Priority” column for me. Thats in the “Go purchase a new one” column.

    However, if you want to buy or purchase an online program on how to set up or build a flattracker, it doesn’t exist. You have to go to the track, do the trial and error, walk up to a real person, ask questions, learn (or not) and do the wrenching yourself. Thats the way road bikes used to be. You had to figure out how to make your bike handle to ride fast. Fast guys in most cases had to wrench their way there. This sounds all sappy sentimental and it is. It was a pre-GSXR1000, pre-Ducati era where checkbook motorcyclists were extremely rare. It’s a new day and only better in some ways. There is no free lunch.

  41. says

    It makes no difference to me. I can do oil changes and filters and a bit of basic maintenance and that’s it. If either of my bikes stop on the road I’m pretty stuffed. One is a carbied V-twin but the other has everything: VVT, EFI, ABS and the dreaded KI-Pass. One is a noisy, vibrating, in-efficient beast the other is a smooth, economical, civilized machine and they’re both fantastic fun!

  42. Sportster Mike says

    Quite agree with a lot of comments
    I have a rubber mount EFI Sportster but if I want to tune it to Stage 1 and beyond I have to get another gadget to do this (Kitech Power Pro etc) and if I want to go further I have to fool the oxygen sensors?? etc
    My next bike will probably be an EARLIER carb model rubbermount Sportster that I know I can tune up and do things with with no hassle – its still got some technology but not too much….
    I may even go back to basics and get a kick start Harley in a swingarm frame

  43. Rob says

    I abhor modern vehicles because of their complexity, living in Africa one eventually comes to the conclusion that “Keep it simple, stupid.” is very valid on this continent.
    I hear what has been said about electronics being pretty robust these days but a near miss in a thunder storm has stranded many a modern car/bike. EMP is a bitch.

  44. Jim says

    The point I was making about my 2007 truck being so reliable is that back in the “good old days” a new vehicle was at the dealer several times in the first year just to fix under warranty all those niggling problems the factory shipped it with. My previous two vehicles were a 1966 Valiant and a ’91 Dodge Dakota, both of which I had to work on at least a couple times a month until parts became rare and it wasn’t worth the trouble. Which brings us to the subject here. Someone will supply parts for vehicles and bikes that remain popular enough to make it worth the effort to source or make them. I still can get most parts I need for my B50 — a phone call and Mastercard away. Old Britbikes, Harleys, XS650s, Moto Guzzis, etc. have a solid following so it’s worth someone’s time to make parts available. Today’s high-tech bikes most likely will fade into obscurity except for a handful of machines that remain favorites for whatever reason; someone will provide parts or upgrade the electronics for them.

  45. Wave says

    Well, pretty much all possible sides of the story have already been covered. In my opinion, the backyard hobbyist’s knowledge has more or less kept pace with technology in the last century. When they were new, a lot of people were confused by vacuum advance distributors and didn’t trust them. However, as technology advances, so does the knowledge of many everyday people. I’ve got a copy of a magazine at home which describes someone converting a Ducati to electronic fuel injection using a GM AC-Delco setup from a four cylinder J-body car, about 20 years ago. Plumbing in sensors and injectors, making fuel rails, re-tuning the EPROM, these were all things which backyard mechanics could and did do even before most bikes had fuel injection. Now that electronics are ubiquitous, people have even more experience with them, and as an added bonus the current generation of fuel injection systems are much easier to work with. Instead of needing a new chip, current computers can be simply re-flashed with a laptop. This doesn’t mean that people can’t still have carburettors if they want, but it is definitely still possible for ordinary to fix, modify or make any part of a fuel-injected engine if they want to.

  46. Wave says

    Oh, and as some other commenters have tried to point out, the question of parts availability is completely irrelevant. Current manufacturers provide adequate parts support, and when that supply runs dry there is always used parts from wreckers yards and so on. Even if this avenue is exhausted, it is always possible to make a substitute for the original part, given sufficient effort. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a conrod or a computer, a discontinued part is still a discontinued part.

  47. Hector says

    I’ve been a mechanic for a quarter of a century, working on both domestic and high end imports.
    Junkyards have existed since the begining of times, and they used to be filled with this so called low tech machinery.
    Regardless of technology or availability of parts most people will rather not deal with the hassle of repair anything.
    It’s just a matter of cost, visit any developing country and you will get a great example of how to keep machinery running regardless of availabilty of parts. This is because labor rates are cheap. You can have parts made at the machine shop cheaper than buying an OEM part.
    Try that on an industrialized country. Sometimes the diagnostic time is more expensive than the product itself, then add the obsolescence engineered to any product and voila: consumerism.
    I love to fix stuff, but I love riding much more.

  48. dan says

    Hey Kneeslider so yer saying the low production bikes of today will never become classics because if they get really old the electronics will become obsolete or impossible to fabricate. That makes perfect sense especially on bikes like the MV Agusta, Laverda or MZ which I really like but upon further review have to consider the down the road restoribility! Is that a word who cares you know what I mean!

  49. Marvin says

    Hey Dan MZ are racing again and hopefully with have bikes out again and very hopefully will have both the singles with the yamaha 660 engines and the 1000cc in line 4 in that brilliant large all rounder.

  50. matt g says

    Hey Kneeslider,

    The topic of futureproofing is interesting. Everytime I chuck a machine screw or old calculator out I marvel at the extravegance of the waste. Thing is, unless industrial society completely unravels, machine screws and CPUs are commodities these days, not marvels. You could probably replace the entire computer rig on a bike with an ipod running a software emulation of the hardware rig. Could I do it? Nope. But I bet there isn’t a single person on this forum that could make a new radial tire or distill gasoline in their garage either!

  51. Nitrofein says

    There are solutions like megasquirt for building your own fuel injection and spark systems. I built one for a old Volvo.
    No need to find lost chips or replace burnt out electronics. You do need to know how to make fuel maps and basic tuning knowledge aside from installing one.

  52. Jim says

    Riders 50 years from now will marvel that we old-timers rode anything so quaint as internal-combustion bikes with tanks of highly flammable liquid between our knees; as they rocket down the road on their electrics. The few old IC bikes left running will be museum pieces and taken out every now and then, fueled with rare and expensive synthetic hydrocarbon gasoline, and run before amazed crowds, who will cover their ears to keep out the racket. All those old IC engines will have been long since scrapped in favor of retrofitted battery packs and oil-cooled motors.

  53. Paul Y says

    Comment to Mule, what’s wrong with heated grips? They are certainly not hi-tech, use minimal current and are very nice if you ride when it’s cold or wet!
    On the subject of keeping old stuff, I had a Ducati Paso with the 16″ wheels, sold long ago, and Pirelli and Michelin have long since quit producing tires in those sizes (130/60-16 and 160/60-16). If you have a Paso, 750 Sport or the original Buell Battletwin which uses those tires you’re out of luck. There are odd bikes out there like the Yam TX750(not saying a good bike) where you might find a nice one but you know you will have to throw it away when it breaks because of unavailable parts.
    Until high energy density capacitor technology progresses to the point of affordability we are still a long ways from a user friendly(lightweight) electric bike. We might see alternative fuels before then that hopefully will be only a jet change or engine mapping away from usability.

  54. John S says

    I’ve thought about this, especially lately where my income is now 30 percent of what it was three years ago. Sure, I can replace an electronic component, if it’s available and doesn’t cost me two month’s pay. I currently own two almost new copies of classic 80s bikes, a V-max and a KLR, and a 12 year old Valkyrie, which technology-wise is a 1970s bike. I can work on these and used parts will be available for a long, long time. I doubt I’ll ever afford another bike…

  55. Byrd says

    One of the things the Soviets understood during the cold war, was the vulnerability of chips to EMP (Electro-magnetic pulse). Detonation of a nuclear device emits a massive EMP (and huge solar storms can as well). So the Soviet fighter planes electronics utilized good old vacuum tube technology which is impervious to EMP.

    Aside from the obsolescence factor, any event which creates a large enough EMP whether a weapon, or solar flare, will immediately render not only all our communications dead, but any vehicle relying on a microprocessor is going to be rendered useless.

  56. says

    Byrd, Here’s another Rooskie tidbit. On their rocket engines, instead of sophisticated flanges, hardware and extremely expensive specialized seals, all the joint interfaces are just welded together. No possiblity for leaks or loosening harware or mechanic oversights. Here we opt for the ultra complex, expensive way to build.

    I always find that the absolute hardest thing to find is a simple solution, but when you find it, the average guy is not impresed. Beacuse…..it just looks so simple.

    With the exception of the electrics, I think 70’s Euro motocrossers are the epitome of simplicity. Fast, functional and you could do a top-end at the track. Yes, bikes today are infinitely more advanced, but back then everyone was on the same level of equipment and it didn’t seem to matter. Everyone was still having a blast.

  57. MTGR says

    I have run across this myself. I am a training MC Mech but when the main Fi computer went out on my ’98 T595 Triumph Daytona I literally could do nothing about it. I had the know how and tools but since it was one of Triumph’s first Fi bikes, and used converted/modded Sagem components that are now hard to find, my options basically became buy a new comp from Triumph for more than the whole bike was worth before it failed or shop used.

    I ended up buying a basket case T595 that still kind of ran for about half that cost. It was not an exact match and I had to mixed and match a few parts until I got one runner but at least I have lots of spare parts (unless the other comp goes, then I have multiple useless components all over the garage).

    It sucks and has definitely made me cautious in a whole new way about future purchases, just as you mention in the article.

  58. steve w says

    This doesn’t have me thinking because I was thinking this for a long time. The car I need for pretty much every day and it gets replaced because of miles and the salt will eat it up anyway. The motorcycle is different! I don’t have to have it but I want to. So for that reason I won’t ever buy a new motorcycle. My motorcycles have only 2 electonic parts i can’t fix or understand. The solid state voltage regulator and the electronic Ign. Since they are V twins (not Harleys) but use Harley components they are easily replaced. I can service all other parts of the motorcycles from overhauls to daily maintainance. These are smooth,fast and reliable motorcycles so why buy new? If you can’t fix anything (and most people can’t) then go buy the new one and let the dealer do the work for you but be prepared to pay the price. Parts replacement WILL become a problem on many machines and delaers won’t fix old bikes in many cases so I like my somewhat old tech bikes that do everything with no shortage of parts to rebuild from. No high tech for me ever in a motorcycle. I don’t need one.

  59. says

    I ride what’s considered a dinosaur by today’s standards, a non-rubbermounted, non-counterbalanced Harley Big Twin that relies on a carburetor rather than computer-controlled fuel injection. In nearly a quarter-million miles it’s never left me on the side of the road.

    In contrast, I have a friend who rides a rubbermounted fuel injected touring Harley. It starts easy and runs well, but when he has a problem he’s forced to turn to a dealer for help. Very expensive help.

    On his way to Sturgis not long ago one of his bike’s numerous sensors failed, leaving him stuck on the side of the road. A nearby Harley dealer towed his bike to the shop, replaced the sensor and charged him over $400. I can replace my carb twice for that kind of money.

    The bottom line, at least for me, is that simpler is better. I know that no matter how many miles I rack up or how many years pass, I can always find parts to keep my “outdated” Harley running great. It doesn’t need a fuel pump (inside the gas tank for cryin’ out loud) because it relies on gravity for fuel flow and atmospheric pressure for fuel delivery. To my knowledge neither gravity nor the atmosphere have stopped working for quite a few millennia but I know of many fuel pumps that have.

    One way that computerized motorcycles differ greatly from computerized cars is that most of a bike’s sensors and electronics are much more exposed than a car’s. All the yards and yards of additional wiring (and the requisite connectors) on a computerized motorcycle are subjected to much more heat and moisture than their automotive counterparts. Consequently wiring becomes brittle sooner and connectors become corroded sooner.

    For the average Harley owner this isn’t really a problem, since the average Harley only travels a few miles a year, and most of those miles are on the back of a trailer. But for someone who intends to ride their Harley many miles for many years, putting your trust in the invisible flow of electrons is counterproductive.

  60. Wave says

    Todd, if you’re that suspicious of electricity then perhaps you should consider changing to a mechanically injected diesel engine with a kick-start and acetylene headlamp, that way your bike wouldn’t need electricity at all! I do understand where you’re coming from though, often the simplest machines are the best.

  61. says

    Wave, there’s a big difference between electrical and electronic. Electrical is easy to diagnose and repair, even on the side of the road. Electronic isn’t.

  62. says

    I’m a 24 years old, and have always had an intrest in bikes and cars. Ive only worked on cars mainly, and recently started working on a bike of my own. The one thing ive found that i like about bikes more than cars is they are one of the last simple machines on the road today. Though i know, that bikes have become more modern over the years. It’s comforting, to know that when working on a bike you can almost find any part you need to cobble together a vehicle. for example, im building a bike right now. And though it is a rather big pain in the ass i’ve, managed to find most of the vital parts for free! I’m not claiming to know a whole lot about bikes. Cuase honestly I don’t. yet, i’m just excited to find how many people ride. And how I’ve found alot by just looking around. Cars in my opinion are becomeing more, and more boreing everyday. engines are getting more complicated, and the need for the average mechanic seems to be dwindling. But, with the motorcycle, it seems that if you have the know how and the proper tools you can frankenstein, something in your garage. please, give me any insight to what ive said. And pardon my grammar it’s terrible.

  63. John says

    I think you’re overlooking one of life’s most basic elements in a free market economy. If there is a demand for aftermarket parts to repair failed electronics, then someone will make and sell them. computer chips in some form or another are here to stay and it’s not hard to imagine that someone will figure out a way to sell standard electronic modules just like they do with ignition systems and electronic spedometers. I mean, sensors are basically the same for all bikes, A/F, TPS, Oxygen, wheel speed, etc. the only difference is the number of variables the computer controls which can be downloadable maps that someone makes once and then sells. So my answer to your question is; I’ll buy my bikes based on other factors than worrying about “how will I fix the electronics 20 years from now”. I’m confident the answer to that quesiton will be to just order something from Dyna-vance&hines-yoshimura-PVL-TBR, yet to be named aftermarket shop. Besides, if I’m still able to ride or fix anything at all when I’m that old I’ll call it a good problem to have.

  64. Tommy says

    There’s a solution to this problem and it’s called MicroSquirt, it’s a DIY ECU that can be programmed to run just about any fuel injected motorcycle… It’s a more compact version of MegaSquirt which has been used with great success in all kinds of custom and race applications. Something to consider… http://www.diyautotune.com