Category Archives: Breakdowns

Days 21-22: Williams, AZ and the Grand Canyon (Ryan)

I for one was glad to leave Vegas…I like my brother, but not the city. It’s hot, dusty, and overrun with glamor. We headed out in another day of scorching heat…105 plus. As we headed quickly toward the Arizona border and no more restrictions about helmets we went through Boulder City. The layout of the city as you head towards Lake Mead has a very “Mediterranean” feel with terraced houses. If you need to stay near Vegas but want out of some of the chaos, you might try Boulder City…it seemed nice as we rode through.

Boulder City, NV…looks like a nice alternative to Vegas.

We skipped the Hoover dam because the heat was getting to Beth. We caught glimpses of the Colorado River through various gorges and valleys.

Colorado River through a series of desert hills.

Our elevation increased and finally the temperature started to come down a little. We still got scorched through the thin air, but at least we weren’t in the oven any more. We picked up route 66 and headed toward Williams, AZ and the Grand Canyon. As we came into Seligman, AZ, I felt a pop through the bike’s frame and Beth practically jumped forward. Her sissy back had shifted back and the luggage rack had sagged. I pulled off and started looking at the luggage rack structure. The main structure was intact, but there were two broken tabs at the front of the grab rails that were supposed to keep the sissy back and luggage rack(which mount to the back of the grab rail) from pivoting back. I eased the bike into town and stopped at the first service station and asked if they weld or had a welder I could use for a few minutes. He didn’t weld or have any equipment, so he gave me classic directions: “take your first left, go till you get to a stop sign, make a right. Way back in there you’ll see a dirt road on the left. Take that down to the barn at the end…that guy welds. No, there isn’t any sign marking the place.” Found the place…there were about 4 or 5 guys sitting around drinking beer and talking. The welder was happy to help. I stripped the luggage, saddle bags and the like off of the bike, pulled up through the gravel into the open bay door. After removing the seat and all the offending parts for him, he cleaned up the broken pieces and welded them back with much better welds than my original work. After painting them up we all sat around and talked. They were interested to hear what we were doing and were happy to share stories of their motorcycle trips and various local exploits. The owner had a 1948 Panhead Harley …very nice, classic bike. He had ridden with his ex-wife (on her own bike) up the pacific coast and a few other places.

1948 Panhead Harley. Not all that different from a modern sportster, Harley’s haven’t changed much!

Sweet, very classic bike. 1948 Panhead Harley.

When we pulled back into town we stopped for dinner at “Road Kill Cafe” right next to the recreated old downtown.While the food tasted good it didn’t end up sitting well with either of us…consider yourself warned.

Rebuilt Downtown Model

Road Kill Cafe

We made it to Williams just after dark. We checked into a really cool 1940s era motel built with local stone. Canyon Motel and RV Park was a great, clean, affordably priced place to stay about 60 miles from the Grand Canyon.

Williams, AZ

Canyon Motel. Caboose is available as a family lodging.

Cool, old 1940s era motel buildings.

In the morning after breakfast we headed the 60 miles or so up to the Grand Canyon. Wow…it was crowded. Really wasn’t the peaceful scenic experience I had envisioned, it was too crowded for that. Also, be warned that many areas are only accessible by their own tour buses. We went where we could ride and skipped the buses. After Canyonlands and Arches the punch of the Grand Canyon was weakened; the scale is definitely greater, but not enough to make Canyonlands pale in comparison, plus the crowds didn’t help. That’s not to diminish the Canyon though…it is amazing, vast, and austere.

Probably the coolest part of it was the desert tower. It was built in the early 1900s and has many Native American characteristics including the locally done artwork on the interior. By far Desert View Tower was the best place along the Canyon that we visited.

Desert View Tower

Inside Desert View Tower

View from the Desert Tower


Days 15-20: Las Vegas and Bike Repairs (Ryan)

Days 15-20

Warning: Contains lots of awesome technical data!

So day 15 started with gathering parts for work on the bike. Several things needed to be done to keep up with maintenance and fix a few broken parts. All the oils needed to be changed (crankcase oil and final drive hypoid oil) along with sparkplugs. The biggest problem was that portions of the ignition system were overheating and causing the bike to stutter badly and even stall when you quit running hard (almost always stalled when you got off of the freeway) and the longer you ran hard the weaker it got. Typically this is caused by the coils overheating, a common problem with 1980s Shadows. I’d heard of guys replacing coils with 4cyl car coils so I thought I would give it a try (new coils are at least $120 each and there are no direct aftermarket replacements plus Honda quit making the sparkplug wires and there are no aftermarket replacements). In hindsight it was not the time to try an experimental system, but so much else on the bike is experimental that I figured, why not?

I’m going to try and detail what I tried and learned so that hopefully someone else can benefit from it. Maybe someone can actually finish this mod and let me know what else needs to be done. I’m going to tell it as I learned it, so hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes and avoid them and make this work. For my non-technical friends…read at your own risk (you can skip to the last paragraph if you need to).

First a quick lesson on ignition systems and a description of the VT500c ignition system. Traditionally there are two kinds of ignitions, points and CDI (Capacitive Discharge Ignition). In a points system electricity is run through the primary side of the coil. When the circuit is disconnected the field collapses and a surge is created through the secondary coils (go read about how an ignition coil works if that doesn’t make sense…kind of beyond the scope here to explain it all, and I’m not an expert so someone else’s explanation is bound to be better) which causes a spark to jump across the tip of the sparkplug (typically at around 30,000 volts). Because current is normally running through the primary side of the coil points type coil usually has anywhere from 1.5-6 ohms of resistance on the primary side. A CDI system uses a magnetic pickup to signal when to fire the spark. A circuit board advances or retards the spark as needed. Capacitors on the board store a charge and then discharge it through the coil when told to create a spark. This creates a 40,000-50,000 volt surge on the secondary side. This is a high output ignition system like the Chevy HEI system. The Shadow’s system is actually somewhere in the middle. Shadows have a transistorized ignition (TCI). Basically it has the magnetic pickups of the CDI system and a circuit board that controls the advance, however, instead of using capacitors to send a surge it breaks the circuit with a transistor just like a points system would. Since it is breaking a circuit it needs a higher resistance coil like the points system. The factory coils were around 2-2.2 ohms. The brains of the ignition system are located in a black plastic box between the battery holder and the air intake under the seat.

The second complicated feature of a 1980s Shadow is that it has two sparkplugs per cylinder so it needs a coil with two outputs. This significantly limits your choice of coils. It also means that there are two 2 output coils. These are controlled by two parallel identical circuits in the

I found a coil for a 2.4L Chyrsler (such as a mid 2000s PT Cruiser) that had a .7-1.5 ohm primary resistance and had two coils built into it each with two outputs (generally used on a “lost spark system” in a 4 cylinder). The Autozone part number is C1136. I figured it might actually work since the resistance was closer to the 2 ohms used in the Shadow’s system. I also wired a relay into the ignition system to give a heavier supply wire to the coils (I was still learning and hadn’t delved deep enough to realize that the “signal wires” were actually grounding the coils most of the time). This is the relay or coil mod described on a number of forums. I hoped it would divert some of the heat away from the ignition module. I built a new right angle bracket and mounted the coil in place of the original coils. The spark plug wires were made from two packages of Accel #170500 universal replacement wires. The standard NGK plugs only have a threaded tip for the wires to attach to instead of the standard nub (don’t know if there’s a proper name, I call them “nubs”). I scalped some nubs from another set of plugs. Everything wired up great.

New spark system installed

When I fired it up it ran like never before…for about 20 minutes, and then the front cylinder cut out. I let it cool off and got it home…every 5 minutes the front cylinder would cut out and when you let it cool it would come back. In the morning the front cylinder wouldn’t fire at all. When I pulled the ignition module there was a burn mark around the front cylinder transistor.

Burned Circuit Board. Right hand transistor was burned.

What was very interesting is that there were no signs of excessive heat on the rear cylinder transistor. At this point I started researching and studying the ignition modules. There are no factory replacements…the only option is used ignition modules on Ebay which are of doubtful quality at best. In doing my research I found a website regarding rebuilding Yamaha Vision TCI modules which are of similar vintage and design. They gave specs on some of the transistors. I called around and found an electronics shop, Kiesub, which could supply transistors. If you’re in the Vegas area and need electronic parts look them up, they were fantastic, but more on that later.

Initially I gave the regular desk guy the info off of the chip and he cross referenced it to a Mosfet transistor. I gave that a try and it didn’t work. Actually I tried running a 1.2 ohm ballast resistor or a .5 ohm and neither worked right at all. The bike sort of ran when I installed removed the ballast resistors, but it burned out the new Mosfet transistor and it also burned out the new front coil. I went back the next morning to Kiesub when their engineer was there and he graciously took about 2 hours to walk me through types of transistors and to study out the problem…even though I only ended up buying $13 worth of stuff. The long and short of it is that recommendations made on the Vision TCI page are right. Use a Darlington NPN High Speed transistor not a Mosfet. The numbers on the chip were probably proprietary for Honda or another manufacturer, but they don’t cross reference to anything now. The transistor that we ended up settling on was an ECG2316 (also NTE2316). An NTE2317 should also work, it’s just hard to find. I’ve put about 1000 miles on the new transistors and so far so good. This should work if you’re board is failing, which is not an uncommon problem. The cost for the repair if you already have a soldering iron and solder is about $15.The only difficulty with the install is that the 2316 and 2317 are TO218 size rather than TO220 (the 218 size is larger). This means that you’ll have to bend the two outside leads in to fit the board. I also had to grind down the top of the mounting plate (just don’t overheat the transistor when doing this) so that it would clear the diode at the top of the board. The center lead gets cut out (the mounting plate has the same function). Use heat sink cream to make sure that the transistor actually transfers heat to the heatsink. If the board is crispy like mine you may need to reconnect some of the traces with wire.

Traces reconnected on the back of the board.

New Transistor on the left side.

When I discovered that they front cylinder wasn’t firing with the new transistors, coil, wires, etc. I decided to try the old coil and wires. Both cylinders fired right up. At that point I tested the “new” coil and found that the front coil had only .2 ohms resistance instead of the specified .7-1.5 ohms. At this point I’d been working on this for three days and I decided that I wasn’t going to keep experimenting so I kept the system where it was: relay mod, new transistors, old coils, and old wires. The wires are so bad that I actually got shocked through the wire casing, but with the strange threaded on coil attachment design it seems almost impossible to replace the wires without changing the coils. The system is running ok. I still have a bit of a weak spark problem when you run hard, although it isn’t as bad as it used to be. I’m guessing that the problem was in both the module and the coil. I don’t know which caused the other or if they both developed independently. Either way, I didn’t destroy the module just by attaching the hotter coil, the rear cylinder survived extensive running (I probably ran an additional 20 miles on the rear cylinder when the front wasn’t working) with no evidence of overheating. Another note, it seems to work best to replace both transistors at the same time to make sure that you don’t end up with a slight difference between the otherwise identical circuits. Most likely everything would have worked with a replacement coil and the 1.2 ohm ballast resistor, but this wasn’t the time to continue to experiment. Hopefully the ailing parts will make it for the rest of the trip. Today (June 6th) we are out of the mountains and into southern New Mexico headed for the gulf coast. There really shouldn’t be as much stress on the system for the rest of the trip. I’m going to try and find wires, but most likely I’ll just stick it out with what I’ve got.

If anyone has any good suggestions or corrected facts please feel free to leave them in the comments.

While I was working on all of this Beth was hanging out bored wherever she could find AC. The temps were ranging from 101-107 every day. After I finished the bike on Saturday we spent the evening and Sunday testing it to make sure it was reliable. To let Matt get back to his regular schedule and so we could just leave in the morning we got a hotel Sunday night. We ended up on the Strip which just for the record looks cool at night, but during the day you can see just how superficial it is…it looks like a cheap carnival during the day. Basically in Vegas almost every restaurant and hotel either has games of it’s own or is part of a casino. The advantage to casino hotels is that they are really cheap…they want you to leave your money downstairs in the machines. Which my brother and I had a discussion about…you can’t really win on a slot machine…maybe there is a chance if you read people well of doing ok at poker and some of the other games are pure chance, but with a machine it’s mathematical, you aren’t going to win unless you fall into a formula that gives out some money periodically to keep people hooked…the house always comes out ahead. Now that I’ve got that out of my system we were able to afford a suite for the price of a regular room…it actually had two bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a Jacuzzi! The other secret to rooms in Vegas is that the price cuts in half or more for Sunday through Wednesday nights unless it’s a holiday weekend.

The Vegas Strip

The Vegas Strip

View for the Hotel Window at night


Stuck in 5th and a trip to Canada

I was riding through midtown Detroit last Thursday on the way home from lunch and coffee with some friends when the end of the shifter linkage sheared off of the shift lever. I was merging from I-75 north back onto I-75 north (I know we have some really screwed up roads here) when traffic slowed down and I shifted down to 4th (the Shadow is a 6 speed). As traffic accelerated again I went back to 5th but when I went to shift into 6th my foot couldn’t find the pedal. I looked down and it was hanging below the footpeg. Staying in 5th I rode the last couple miles to my exit. I hoped I could clear the light at the top of the ramp and get it close to home or a friends garage, but the light was red with a line of cars. I hopped the bike onto the sidewalk and shut it down. Lacking the tools to get the cover off (something that I’m fixing) I had no way to manually downshift to 1st or 2nd. In the end I just held the clutch lever in and pushed the bike over a mile to my friends garage. Wow…I’m really thankful that it’s only a 500 and not an 1100!

This is what was broken:

After basic repair attempts failed I started looking for the parts. Honda wanted me to replace the entire assembly…of course for a lot of money! None seemed to have even close to the right parts. Maybe they could order them by early the next week, but then I wouldn’t have the weekend to make the repairs and start tuning the carburetors. I finally located the parts needed to rebuild the whole linkage…at a Fastenal branch in Windsor, Ontario.

My first thought was, “I’m not crossing an international border for a few dollars in parts.” But then my wife reminded me that we had $20 Canadian laying around so I might as well go. So I grabbed my passport, keys, GPS and a little bit of cash and headed for the tunnel. The Canadian border patrol agent looked at me a little funny when she asked why I was visiting Canada and I told her that it was “To buy two spherical rod ends from Fastenal for my motorcycle.” I found Fastenal just fine and they had the two rod ends. But then when we looked up the threaded rod I would need to go between them they didn’t have it (evidently spherical rod ends only come in 1/4-28, but very few other things use 1/4-28). The second Fastenal store that did have my threaded rod was isolated by construction and had an address that the GPS couldn’t find. Forty-five minutes later, frustrated, I finally found the store in the back of a light industrial area. I purchased the rod and came home. That evening it only took about an hour to make the parts into a nice, new linkage. In fact, the new linkage actually makes the bike crisper than the old assembly!

I figured at the end of the saga there were at least two positives: 1) I’m fairly certain the linkage won’t break on our cross country trip; and 2) I got a cool story about going to Canada for $14 in parts!