Part Two – More Tools
In the first article, we covered the mysteries of the Hindenbox's upper level, join us now as we delve into the:
The sockets, ratchets, and extensions live in a couple of drawers. It’s hard to keep the sockets from jumping around in the drawer while traveling but they are loosely organized on strips or organizers. There are duplicates, 6-point, deep well, and Allen key versions of most of the 3/8” stuff, because you really can’t have enough quantity and variety of 3/8” socket-y things. Allen key sockets are really great and take away the drama of getting a stuck bolt out with a t-handle or regular Allen key. The 6-point sockets are very strong and less likely to strip a stuck or high torque bolt than the 12-point variety. Also there is an odd assortment of ¼” and ½” sockets purchased as needed to match particular fasteners.
There’s not much worse than a cheap set of sockets. Since they are one of the most used items in the box, we have both Craftsman and cheap-but-decent Husky (from the Home Depot). Ever the iconoclast, BMW broke with the herd, forcing us to make room for the 16 and 18mm sockets which we had never used let alone carted to the track. The other in the Most Used category is the double set of combination wrenches on stout magnetic strips that are able to hold the wrenches down even over the bumps on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The next drawer down has 500 screwdrivers ranging from very wee, to the big scabby looking one we use for prying big things that need to be pried. The regular duty ones are Craftsman, and they do the job. An important revelation that anytime one picked up a screwdriver to do something besides turn a screw (i.e., scraping, chiseling, prying) the screwdriver would invariably end up in the palm of one’s hand has encouraged us to cut down on screwdriver abuse.
Halt! Hammer drawer! Often the humble beginnings of an endurance team involve bashing on the motorcycle with a big hammer during a pit stop while yelling incoherently at one’s teammates. This could be one of the major attractions for people who are considering jumping into the endurance pond. We still have the big hammer, but things have to be bad (i.e. bashing out the inside of a gas tank, hoping a) it doesn’t explode, and b) it might be fixed enough to hold gas) for it to come out of the drawer.
Since we didn’t know where else to put it, the collection of Torx tools used on the BMWs has ended up in the hammer drawer. According to Wikipedia, the Torx design is better, as you can put more torque into a bolt without damaging the bolt or the tool than with conventional hex or Allen key fasteners. Putting it in with the hammers, however, might be a passive-aggressive reaction to the frustration of not being able to instantly recognize and describe what size tool to use after years and years with metric hex fasteners: “Hey, could you pass me the one that is smaller than the not-so-wee one? I think.”
The air tools. We have a 3" cutoff wheel for speedily chopping things up, making lots of noise, throwing long plumes of sparks across the garage, and doubling as a bench grinder at the track. There is a 3/8” chuck air drill and a collection of drill bits. Sharpening bits with the bench grinder is a good skill to have, but it doesn't pay with 1/16" safety wire bits. We buy 6 dozen titanium-nitride coated 135-degree split-point high-speed-steel bits every year from the nice ladies at McMaster-Carr (www.mcmaster.com). Lumped in the air tool drawer are an air chisel and sheet metal nibbler. We used to use these to cut holes in the sheet metal of whatever decrepit old van we were driving around in to install windows and vents, which made the whole process of going to the races much nicer. We also have a 1/8” and a ¼” die grinder for porting. Carbide cutters are the only way to go for metal removal, and sandpaper “points” or cones for finishing. FZR400 and 600 ports were so small that the 1/8” grinder was the only tool that would fit for porting. Suzuki 600 ports in later years are big enough to read a newspaper through, so the ¼” grinder made its way into the box. All that said, when we graduated to Heavyweight Superbike, the bikes showed up with so much power and speed that there really haven’t been any engine modifications other than sorting out the traction control to take some of the power away. Too much power? Yes, indeed.
Banging around with the air tools is a homemade wheel bearing press made of ¾” all-thread and various arbors turned to the right size, for pressing in bearings. Bashing bearings into a wheel with a socket and a big ol’ hammer is the road to despair.
One of the bottom drawers of the lower box has 3 cubic feet of nuts, bolts, seeds, washers, funny old brackets, and small scraps of metal. Any leftovers and scraps just go in there because they will surely be useful sometime. That drawer almost never disappoints. We just keep throwing stuff in there, and it keeps giving back. It might not be the most efficient, and occasionally someone might get the idea that there really isn’t a 10mm locknut in there and buy a bag, but the biggest collection of fasteners we can carry has been a real ace.
We keep some spare parts like levers, special nuts and bolts that would make us sad to be without (sprocket nuts, clutch nuts), in another drawer. Randomly, the community stash of earplugs and ballpoint pens, and the calculator is in there too. After one of our friends gave up on another team to come hang out with us because that team was too cheap to buy pens, we made sure to always keep a bunch in the drawer.
One drawer has all of those things that are like a pair of pliers, including three pairs of safety wire pliers (two of the cheap ones from Aircraft Spruce, and a coveted set of Mil-bar pliers that mysteriously found a home in our box), a humble collection of diagonal cutters for chopping off all that safety wire, and needle nose pliers in various sizes.
We also have a drawer full of cheap locking pliers, actual Vise-Grip brand locking pliers, and channel-locks. The cheap ones are there to be savaged over and over by abusive welders and during attempts to replace the kingpin bushings on a few old Ford Econolines. In the same drawer is a set of Craftsman circlip pliers, the grooviest, stiffest, most positive pair of circlip pliers a person could ever aspire to use.
The collection of T-handle sockets are used all the time. Different colored duct tape on the handles makes grabbing the right one easy. Also a fabulous thing is our set of Wurth t-handle Allen wrenches. T-handle Allens can be a little nerve-wracking sometimes as you wind them an eighth of a turn around before the bolt snaps loose. But they are faster than the L-shaped ones, and the Wurth ones are 20 years old and haven’t worn out with constant use. Also, we have our Bondhus ball-end Allen wrenches. Nothing brought more joy than finding out about those things after struggling with the 3mm Allen bolt on the carb boots of an FZR 400 for several years.
Our electrical drawer has a multi-meter, although it is used less and less as (knock on wood) electrical systems seem more reliable and fuel-injection systems have error displays. Also in the drawer is a collection of butt connectors of various sizes that seem to be used a fair amount for fixing up the wiring on the trailer in some scary truck stop in the middle of the night. We’ve all been to that truck stop.
Last of all is a drawer of big things, like a cheap bench vise that can be clamped to the trailer tongue when times are desperate, a DeWalt angle grinder (used mostly for beveling brake pads, grinding off chain rivets, and throwing sparks), boxes of nitrile gloves, funnels, and the aforementioned football.
Beveling brake pads with the traveling vise and angle grinder.
Torquing The Head Nut
We used to traipse up to the Sears every winter or two and swap out a bunch of worn tools, which was a really satisfying experience. One interesting aspect of human behavior is our response to intermittent positive reinforcement of negative behavior. The so-called slot machine theory. We continue to shovel quarters into the machines, go endurance racing, bash our heads against the wall, pay good money for old rope, and so on, because every once in awhile we get that payoff. Winning is like that, unfortunately. The rush of endorphins from trading in the worn out tools for new ones, definitely. Bearing in mind a negative behavior (racing) that is sometimes not positively reinforced enough (dry spells and broken valves) is eventually discarded, we came to appreciate the little things. In recent years we haven’t been putting as much wear on the tools due to shorter seasons, less engine and suspension work, and getting more help from people, when we otherwise would have dug in ourselves. Being part of a village is positive reinforcement for sure.
After the first few weekends, the adrenaline-soaked traction yahoo seems to steer away from the more visceral aspects of racing to the cerebral. People who have been racing for a while tend to have that squinty-eyed Josey Wales look, or the thousand-yard stare. So thinking about what has to happen to minimize the negative reinforcement of racing, a racer will come up with a few rules of living beyond “stab it and steer”. So it’s not just about what tools you have but how you use them, including the one between the ears.
Which brings us to a few rules we observe about working on the bikes:
- Don’t safety wire a bolt without checking to see if it is properly tightened.
- Don’t stop halfway through a procedure with the idea that you’ll remember to come back to it, because there’s that chance you won’t.
- If there’s a step you can’t complete before you do something else, leave a piece of duct tape with a reminder to “tighten the starter clutch nut” or “add oil” before you start things up.
When it’s all going wrong, take the time to make sure you’re doing everything right.
Good tools, like good preparation, pay off. It’s been said that luck is skills, attitude and knowledge combined with favorable opportunity. You make your own luck with the tools you have at hand…
Eventually, a person has to know when they have reached their limit. If you are ready to jam the screwdriver through the valve cover because you forgot to put the front cam-chain tensioner rail in and there’s nobody in the garage to say “step away from the table, doctor”, there’s only you keeping yourself in check. This applies to driving around in the middle of the night propping your eyes open after the eighth No-Doz. Pull over. Swap drivers.
When it’s all going right, it looks more like this. Dedicated to Jeff Walker, 1974-2013.
Which brings us to the big rule. Remembering that everything you do affects the safety of the riders, other racers, all those folks on the highways, and so on, the big rule is that it all has to be done right. JB Weld won’t fix a radiator. A chain like a guitar string will pull the countershaft out of the cases. The wee wrench left on the brake bleeder nut can cause problems.
But if you think about everything that can go wrong, the crushing psychic weight will keep a person from getting out of bed in the morning. One of the joys of racing, or wrenching, is being in the moment and focusing on just how much throttle or brake to use, or being in a process or flow of procedures to disassemble, adjust, and assemble a bike for you or your buddies. Don’t think about what can go wrong, but think about how to do things properly. Don’t hurry, and get it right the first time.