Repair vs. Replace: A cautionary tale about an old motorcycle

by Mar 26, 2018Technology2 comments

Are you sure you want to replace that equipment? Is it truly beyond repair?

Replacing tired looking equipment when your system malfunctions or breaks down can seem like a great idea. However, with proper maintenance and maybe the addition of some modern engineering tweaks, that old equipment may be able to provide you (and your building) with many more years of efficient service. You may even end up with a nice vintage system that is robust, easy to troubleshoot, and just as reliable as any new system could hope to be.

Take, for example, my 1975 Moto Guzzi T3. I purchased this bike partially disassembled and ran into many unanticipated issues to get it on the road. After some serious hours studying the Haynes manual and more time busting knuckles (and a few PBRs) I had it running. The 850cc, longitudinally mounted V twin, shaft drive, naturally aspirated, italian beast had some satisfying torque, and a throaty tone. I was pretty sure it was the coolest bike in the southern Maine and NH seacoast area.

I eventually started riding the bike further from home as my confidence in the machine increased. Not much later, as project bikes often do, it broke down. Well, not completely, one cylinder stopped firing but it was limping along. So we limped home.

Here is where I went astray and started replacing things.

As I investigated, I ruled out a bunch of obvious ameteur theories, but couldn’t find a tangible root cause. At this point I should have coughed up a few bucks and had an expert diagnose my problem, but I had rebuilt the engine, transmission, carburetors, you name it, and was confident that this was an easy fix.

I started replacing little parts; condensers, points, plugs, wires, etc. After installing and testing these parts 1 by 1, nothing helped, and now I couldn’t get the timing quite right. The frustration led to the purchase of an electronic ignition. Now this was getting expensive, but the ignition did come with a cool sticker for my toolbox.

So I gave it a test drive. After all that time and money  I had exactly what I started with. No noticeable improvement in performance. The cylinder still died out after a longer ride.

I took a week or 2 off from this project.

When I got back to it, I got lucky and discovered I had a bad coil. Something almost any motorcycle tech would have identified easily. I almost replaced them both with special coils made by the electronic ignition company. I can’t remember why I stopped there, but I bet it was all the time and the small fortune it took to realize all I ever needed was a $50 coil.

You can’t tell that I replaced these parts, they aren’t outwardly visible, but I know I stole a little bit of the authenticity of that bike. I also spent a bunch of money I didn’t really have on parts I didn’t really need.

Fixing my old bike is not as complicated as maintaining the buildings we live and work in but you might be able to learn from my mistakes.

Take the time and spend a relatively small amount of money to get the right person to look at your older equipment. Don’t get talked into replacing it unless you get all the facts. And definitely don’t be like me. Because nobody is going to reject your money if you are ready to spend it.

Maybe if you’re lucky and ask nicely, you’ll gain some specialized knowledge of the systems you have, and avoid a service call in the future. Instead of complaining about how much it cost to replace some system or component, you could be bragging about how well your old equipment runs and how well you know how to maintain it.

Of course there is a time when replacing equipment is necessary, but I think taking that extra step to see if a little maintenance might be the right choice is well worth it.

Have you ever learned a lesson a hard way like I did? Share your bike (or building) stories in the comments below.


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  1. Ron Locke

    Great story, only topped by mine!

    A 2008 Chrysler Hemi in an Aspen had a rough idle. Cylinder #8 was missing and flashing a code. A compression check indicated low compression on that cylinder. Adding oil into the cylinder, increased the compression, which will normally happen. Pulled the valve cover looking for a broken valve spring (common failure for this engine/era). No broken spring. Pulled the head(s) suspecting a burned/bent valve. No valve issues found. Lapped the valves (all 16) and replaced the valve springs, valve stem seals, head gaskets, etc. Since the heads were off and compression was low, decided to pull the oil pan and pistons too. Cleaned the pistons, honed the cylinders and replaced the rings. Put it all back together only to discover the miss was still there. While the heads were off, I “almost” pulled the lifters out of the block to inspect, but decided not to. Had spent enough time and money and did not think any of those parts were defective. Please note, this engine has roller lifters, which are another weak spot on this engine. With that in mind, I still dismissed the potential of that being my issue. To check the lifters, I had to pull the heads once again. Not only did I find a defective lifter, the lifter had damaged the on the cam, which would require a lot of work to get to and replace. Well, since I had to take most of the parts off the front of the engine anyways (some for the 2nd time), I decided to not only replace the cam, but also the water pump, water hoses, timing chain, timing chain tensioner and sprockets, fan belts and fan belt tensioner/pulleys. Even put a new fan clutch on, cause I was not taking any chances this time. I guess I could have changed the oil pump too! I have also used only Synthetic Oil which meets/exceeds Chrysler MS-6395 specs., something I used to deviate from based on cost and availability. The oil might have caused the lifter/cam failure in the first place.

    Lesson learned, in the words of my former pastor, “Do now what you know now to do”! It will keep you from spending excessive money and time, often duplicating both in the process. Maintenance, both preventive and corrective, are both necessary to keep any system, structure or equipment operational and in “like new” condition. Taking shortcuts to save time and/or money, really do neither in the long run.

  2. Fast And Friendly Mobile Mechanics

    The last part made me laugh. This happens so often to most people who try to do it themselves. End up spending tons of time working on whatever, buying unnecessary parts, and even if they get it fixed, its probably not done correctly. If you really dont know, just hire out, unless you enjoy that sort of thing.
    Thanks for the laughs


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