I had some scheduled maintenance to do on my bike for the 2017 riding season, specifically to prepare it for the Iron Butt Rally but that would be long completed before I needed to start training heavily for the Iron Butt Rally, or so I thought. I had a leaking base gasket for my rear cylinder which I replaced without incident on April 8th. This really is not a trivial task as I need to remove the head and cylinder to replace the gasket.
Then on April 9th I tackled my next maintenance project, replacing the primary chain and sprockets. I removed the primary cover and the first thing I noticed was the clutch hub was wobbling on the shaft, however the nut was still tight. That wasn’t a good sign. I removed the clutch hub, primary chain, and from sprocket and found the bearing for the transmission main shaft was missing the cage that holds the actual ball bearings in place
I had a decision to make, do I rig up some tool to pull the bad bearing and replace it? Or do I pull the engine, split the cases, and replace all of the bearings. Since the engine had 206,000 miles on it and I had no idea what the rest of the bearings were like, I chose to pull the engine and replace all. Doing the work was time consuming however it went fairly smooth. With the help of a good friend I replaced every bearing in the transmission plus two for the engine crankshaft.
I installed the engine and had it running on Sunday May 14th, Mother’s Day. I started the engine and it did sound like it was making noise in the top end of the engine, however Sportsters always make a lot of noise in the top end. I chalked it up to my running a different oil and my imagination as I certainly could not have done anything that wrong since it is such a simple engine. Essentially I was in complete denial that I could have made a serious mistake assembling my engine. I took it out for a short 2 mile test ride and did not make it home. I called a friend who came and picked the bike and I up and brought us home where I immediately started looking for the problem. I removed the front cylinder head and saw the piston
I had destroyed my engine. It seems I must have installed one of the cam shafts incorrectly causing the exhaust valve from the front cylinder to hit the piston and the engine essentially ate itself. Now I was done as there was no way I could get the bike running again before the Iron Butt Rally in late June or the MD 2020 just 2 short weeks away.
Then, my buddy who had helped me said I could use his Sportster for the rally. I accepted his gracious offer with a sigh of relieve since I had spent too much time and money to not start in the Iron Butt Rally. Then other offers came out of the woodwork. I had my choice of several other bikes from other manufacturers, plus a few other friends who had previously said I could use their bikes. I have an awesome group of friends! And the Long Distance Riding community is terrific since I know I could have put the word out that I needed a bike and I am sure I would have had my pick of bikes.
A second lifeline
Then another friend suggested I purchase a used engine for my bike. At first I was against this idea however after checking to see what I needed to do to ride someone else’s bike in the Iron Butt Rally I was informed that crossing into and out of Canada on a bike I did not own could be problematic. Plus I needed a higher level of motorcycle insurance than most people carry and this would be a burden to the owner of whichever bike I ended up using. I decided to go with the used engine, and on Friday May 19th it was delivered to the bike shop that does the work on my bikes I choose not to do.
I picked it up, took it to my shop where I work on bikes, and proceeded to remove and replace my engine.
On Thursday May 25 I started my bike up with the replacement engine and it ran great. I was able to participate in the MD 2020 rally over Memorial Day weekend and ultimately the Iron Butt Rally at the end of June.
I learned a lot from that exercise. My future planes are to disassemble the original engine for my bike and rebuild it. This replacement engine, while great, has this funny shinny stuff on it and it seems to have mystical powers that make me want to polish it every time I get a smudge on it! And I plan on having my mechanic go over the engine before I start it the first time, just to be sure …