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Old 03-12-2013, 06:50 PM   #135
porkandcorn OP
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Joined: Jan 2011
Location: Portland, Oregon
Oddometer: 296
some trouble with the tiger...

warning: long-winded motorcycle maintenance-specific diatribe follows.

now that i'm in santa cruz, and have a little down time, i need to come clean with something. i haven't lived up to my own promise to be completely honesty in this report… i... have been having some issues with the triumph. having put this bike on a pedestal, i have been hesitant to tarnish it's perfect image in the mind of the reader. it is because i love the bike so dearly that i have done us all this disservice.

on my way to the hotel the night after the 1st photo-shoot tip-over in bahia inglesa, chile, the tiger was stalling whenever i pulled in the clutch, and RPMs were under 1500. at first i thought that it was only re-adjusting to the altitude change - that morning i'd been at nearly 16,000 ft, and that evening i was at 00,000 feet. then my mind wandered to the tip-over - had i done something horrible in that moment of carelessness? was it a passing hiccup in the fuel or air filtration systems that needed some time to work out? was it a bad tank of gas that i burned through in mendoza and forgot about? or was something more terrible and unconsidered developing?

i'm a novice at motorcycle maintenance. i can perform basic tasks very well and studiously. i can look for obviously mechanical issues with wheels, shocks, brakes, cables, etc. but when it comes to engines, and especially high-tech computerized masterpieces like the tiger's 800cc triple cylinder - it's all dutch to me (as they say - no offense to the dutch.)

so i waited a couple of days.

it got worse. effectively, the bike did not any longer know how to idle. whenever i would pull in the clutch, RPMS would drop and the bike would stall. this was particularly frustrating (and embarrassing) when i would come into towns during the day or at the end of the day, navigating confusing and often chaotic traffic. every time i came to a stop, if i didn't feather the clutch and roll the throttle a bit to keep RPMs up, the bike would die. every stop sign, every stop light, turning corners - you get the idea. not only was i already a spectacle coming into town, but now my fancy captain america bike was dying, and i would have to restart it, often with a high-pitched rev of the engine that was required to instantly get the RPM past the point where it would just die again. more turning heads. fun stuff.

and worse, it has also been dying when i round mountain corners, having to downshift to slow the bike and conserve precious break pads. or downshifting to prep for an uphill climb. in these higher speed situations, sometimes the bike was stalling, and it would lock the wheel temporarily - sending the rear wheel out from under me in a hair-raising skid. not fun.

it was also stalling off-road on these shitty dirt and rock paths - where every 5 seconds, you're grabbing clutch to navigate the chaos, work around a rock, prepare for a sand-trap, or a million other scenarios.

consequently, i'm using both the starter and clutch way more than in normal riding situations. so that made me nervous about burning out either one of those prematurely - and in some odd corner of the world a million miles away from a qualified tech, much less a triumph tech with triumph parts for this very rare south american steed.

it got really bad in san pedro de atacama, chile. and i was out on exotic day trips to places even SUVs couldn't get too. needless to say, i didn't have a lot of confidence in the bike at the time and it was causing stress when i should have been having a care-free time exploring.

i put in a call to brant, my service tech at cascade moto classics back home in oregon. brant began to patiently, and very skillfully help me diagnose the problem over a series of skype calls over a few days. but remember, we are talking about me describing something over the phone and him having to make education guesses based on the symptoms i'm describing.

brant and i narrowed the stalling/idling issue down to a couple likely culprits: the MAP sensor (manifold absolute pressure sensor hooked up to the bike's computer), and the idle stepper motor (a servo motor that physically controls the bike's idle in various situations.) the MAP sensor is just a little air pressure sensor below the gas tank that is hooked up to a couple hoses and tells the computer whats going on. it's the same exact sensor (interchangeable) as the barometric pressure sensor, which is located under the battery and just reads ambient pressure from the air around the bike. i checked the MAP sensor as i was instructed - hoses in tact, in good condition, and connected. electrical connection in tact. i checked the barometric pressure sensor too - although it's a far less critical reading. all good.

brant suggested pulling the battery connection to do a "hard re-boot" on the bike's computer. i did this, and heard the idle stepper motor doing it's little dance upon re-boot, attempting to find its min and max limits. i did this battery disconnect/reconnect a few times, and each time, the stepper motor would take a different amount of time to do it's thing upon re-boot - like it was confused. like it was failing. so in my head, i had found the culprit, since the MAP sensor has no moving parts and the stepper motor is a complicated little server motor with lots of fragile moving parts.

at one point, after a hard re-boot, the stepper motor found it's limits, i started the bike, and the idle was completely perfect. like nothing had every happened! this was a break through, and in my mind, i had found the culprit. a smoking gun!

i knew that in a week or so, i'd be here in santa cruz, bolivia, so i quickly pulled the trigger and had the nice folks at cascade (thank you liz, janice, and randy!) fedex a stepper motor to my future (and current) hotel. i also had them throw in an oil filter, and a set of rear brake pads - i knew i was going to pay through the teeth for the shipment to bolivia anyway.

so now, the plan is to swap out the stepper motor here in santa cruz, and hope that the factory settings are close enough to tolerances to achieve an improvement in idle performance. ideally, after a swap out, the bike should be hooked up to a computer to set the exact min and max tolerances. the closest triumph tech is in sao paulo, brazil, and i'm not going back to brazil.

but wait - there's more!

after all this, i've noticed another issues developing: the clutch seems to be going out. if i hammer the throttle in gears 2-5, around 5000 RPM, the clutch will engage much like i'm feathering the clutch lever, and the engine will rev without any torque until the bike speeds up a bit, RPMs drop, and the clutch un-engages.

is this due to all the clutch work i've had to do over the last couple of weeks to "manually" idle the bike in various situations? is this a premature clutch wear-out? is there not enough play in the clutch lever, causing the clutch to engage when it should not? all to be determined this week.

hopefully, if the clutch plates are shot, i can find an after market replacement here in santa cruz. otherwise, i'm likely going to be filling the deep coffers of fedex with another parts shipment to la paz, bolivia or lima, peru.

all this leads me to the downside of being a triumph tiger pioneer. this is a new bike - it's only been around since 2010. here i am in south america, and there's not a ton of options if parts specific issues occur that do not involve expensive shipments. even bmws are more common down here, have available techs and service locations, and most importantly - parts. a 2012 triumph tiger is a rare, rare bird in these parts.

but this is an amazing bike, and i'm still in love with it. perhaps even more so now that she's come down from her perch on the impossibly high pedestal that i've built for her. now she is more human - flawed like i am, imperfect. now i can relate more to her, and begin to develop a realistic relationship. leave to me to anthropomorphize a pile of bolts, rubber, and electronics, but maybe she has feelings too. i've been through my ups and downs - why shouldn't my bike be able to have a bad day, or days, as well? it would be insensitive for me, or for any of you reading to expect that a machine as complicated as this to power over 20,000 km of south american terrain without having some bad days.

i'm proud to be a triumph tiger pioneer, an early-adopter. someone has to clear the brush from the path. despite the risks, i feel it's worth it. i really do love this bike, for a variety of reasons that i've already exhausted in other entries.

anyway, my friend here in santa cruz, has a connection with a bmw / dakar mechanic, and i'm going to meet him tomorrow to see if he can help me resolve one or both of these pressing issues. the new stepper motor is in bogota, columbia, making it's way closer to santa cruz. and hopefully, i can find an aftermarket clutch kit if that is really what is going on with the clutch.

phheewwwww. feels better to get that off my chest. for both my sake and my baby tiger's…

ps. while i'm at it, triumph needs to re-engineer the plastic-to-rubber ratio on the turn signal housings to include more rubber. the stupid things break if you look at them sideways.

porkandcorn screwed with this post 03-13-2013 at 06:04 AM
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