September 2019 Head Of The Dragon Road Trip – Part Three

Electrical Entropy

So there we were in the parking lot of the McDonald’s in Welch, WV about 450 miles from my home looking at a bike that refuses to start. If Entropy can be described as the “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder” then this was full on, in your face entropy.

I can tell you, my mental faculties were definitely experiencing a “decline into disorder”! However it was not best described as “gradual”… in fact I’d use the terms “sudden” or “accelerating” to best describe the sensation.

My mind raced with the analytic possibilities. Having been a professional technician in the automotive business for many years and doing repairs at home for friends, moving into the arena’s of shop management, car sales and sales management and pretty much everything in between to include web mastering for large multi line dealerships I was well rounded enough to really blow this whole thing out of proportion and get into some real trouble. Why would I think such a thing? Because that is the design and intent of chaos when it too enters the arena of your personal near disaster. So I stopped reacting for a few milliseconds, reset all my mental breakers and began to think this thing through. Some basic checks were obviously in order.

The problem did not appear to be the battery itself, because all the lights worked, the radio worked, everything I could check without the engine running worked. However, everything stopped working the very instant I would push the starter button. Generally, this indicates a loose or bad connection somewhere in the main power supply. What may be happening is the added load of the starter causes the loose or bad or corroded connection to fail thus interrupting the power supply and shutting everything down. This was confirmed by several attempts with the same results. So at least we had the symptoms clearly defined and a distinct possibility; one I had actually seen several times in my career and repaired easily and successfully.

There was also the very real and distinct possibility of a failed wire bundle connection on the back of the electrical portion of the ignition switch. These bikes are known to have this problem although it is by no means a common complaint. So, with these two thoughts in mind I removed the faux gas tank cover to gain access to the battery and related cabling and the fuse panel. All the fuses were good. The fuse slots were clean and tight and none were discolored. Discoloration would likely indicate an overheated circuit which could point me at the problem or even some other one that is developing. But all was good in fuseville. The battery cables were tightly mounted to the terminals and they were still clean with no signs of corrosion. I cycled the ignition and starter switch combination several times looking for sparks or smoke or really any sort of clue but visually everything was fine.

I began to think more about the ignition switch and the starter relay and even the starter itself. I decided to trace the ignition switch wire bundle to it’s cannon plug, disconnect it, jumper it and see if the bike would crank over. This would require removing portions of the full fairing to expose the wiring. And so began the gradual slide into disorder.

In order to gain the access I needed I had to remove the windshield which requires removal of both mirrors and some trim work plus the headlight window. I also had to remove the left fairing lower portion in order to get to the rest of the screws holding the left main body work on. In about 10 minutes my motorcycle looked like it had been severely wrecked and there were parts of it all over the McDonald’s parking lot approximately 450 miles from my home.

Even worse, once I had gained access all the connections were tight, not corroded and in fine working order. I have some ongoing health issues that cause me some amount of variable discomfort and or struggle nearly every day and working on my bike out there in the hot sun was definitely aggravating them. By the time I had the bike apart I felt kind of sick and so I went over and sat in the small shady spot made by the sign for a few minutes until that passed. I drank some cold water and noted I was not sweating very much at all. Therefore I resolved to proceed very easily and take as many breaks as I felt I needed since I should have been sweating pretty good a local had commented it was nearly 100 degrees out here in the full sun. Chaos wanted to add heat stroke to my list of problems but I wasn’t going to allow that to happen!

So it took about 10 minutes to get it apart but I took about 20 or 30 putting it back together and I was still no closer to a repair. I had found nothing wrong except everything still quit working when I pushed the starter button. This left the starter circuit and the battery as possible culprits. One rule of troubleshooting is to always check the basics (done) and then recheck the simple stuff. I decided to try a jump start on the off chance the battery has suddenly internally developed not a “short” but an “open” circuit. In such a case the symptoms could be the very same. One of the workers was kind enough to pull his truck over and I had my cables ready. The bike fired right up with the added juice and I tried it several times. It was the battery after all! I was relived at the prospect of a simple battery purchase and swap out and we’d be on our way. Altogether we had lost almost two precious hours of riding time from the moment we had stopped there by the new hospital until then.

There was an auto parts store about a hundred yards away in a little shopping center and so we rode over there, I popped the false tank off again went inside. Entropy and chaos followed me in. I asked for a battery for a 2000 Kawasaki Voyager XII, they looked it up, said “sure”! And promptly returned with a battery that maybe would fit a Honda mini bike. It was about the size of three juice boxes. I asked him to come outside and look at the battery and he said “Yup. That’s bigger.” So we went back inside and looked it up again, and he brought out the correct one. I paid for it, went outside and removed mine and installed the brand new one…and it was dead. He yells over to the manager “I TOLD YOU THAT WAS A BAD BATTERY CORE EXCHANGE!” The manager says “Well now we know huh?” I said ‘YOU SOLD ME A DEFECTIVE BATTERY CORE AS A NEW BATTERY?” They apologized and refunded my money as I removed the battery. It was the only one that was an exact fit so we began looking at other batteries with the proper terminal orientation and capacity ratings. Eventually we found one and it was “New In The Box” and I paid for it and put it in my motorcycle. And it too was D E A D ! the lights just barely came on when I turned the ignition switch on. So they tested the battery and it had about 6 volts and a few amps in it so they offered to quick charge it for me. “Take about 20 minutes” So I said ok and asked them to also charge my old one since I had nothing else to do and for just in case.

We went next door to the Pizza Hut for some air conditioning and food since it was now nearly 100 degrees outside and we had missed lunch. It was about 3:15 when we sat down inside Pizza Hut. After about 40 minutes (almost 4 o’clock) I went back over and they said the “New In Box” battery did not test good so I got a refund again and asked about my old battery. They said it charged up and tested good. I was skeptical to say the least but I had no choice so I installed it and gave it a try. NOPE. Now it’s going on 4:30 pm and we know The Ride is not happening. I asked these guys where else I might get a battery right now? They looked right at me and said our other store is just 15 miles away right on the same road – and he’s pointing in the direction of our motel!

So I had him call the store and ask if they had the correct battery in stock – and they did. I asked him to ask them if they would test one for me and he did and said it was good. They put it on hold, I got another jump start and some directions and took off for that store like my ass was on fire and my head was catchin! I rode that portion of 52 with a vengeance and only slowed for the little towns we rode through. I was trying to leave entropy and chaos as far behind me as I could.

When we arrived at the sister store they were ready and waiting for me. I swapped out the batteries and the bike fired right up! I had them test the charging system and it was fine. I paid them, thanked them and noted it was right at 5 o’clock. I led a spirited ride back up the remainder of 52 and some other roads back to the motel and it was 6:10 pm when I walked into my room and collapsed in a heap on the chair. I sat for a few minutes as my mind raced through the day’s shenanigans and I was just thankful to the cosmic universe that the situation was resolved and that even though we did not achieve our objective I’d be riding my bike back home in the morning. And I did, all 450+/- miles with only one gas and food stop besides breakfast and topping off before we left.

Oh, and it rained steadily on us. the. whole. way. home.
I swear that cloud followed us.