He’s broken a few and fixed almost as many. He’s welcomed in workshops across the globe, chased out of most local ones. But he’s ours and he’s a maestro on the end of a tool. Spannerman will fix you up…

Suzuki V-Strom
The early V-Strom 650 saw ABS offered as an option.

Andrew asked…

I’m in a bit of a quandary and was hoping you can help me with it. I am seriously looking at a new Suzuki 650 V-Strom but have some reservations about the ABS.

Is it switchable (that is, can I turn it off)? I love the idea and safety benefits of ABS for road use but on dirt I’m not so sure. Sometimes you want to be able to lock the wheels, particularly the rear. My car experience tells me braking on loose gravel can be positively scary.

I’m not planning on entering enduro events but I do want to really explore some of the more out-of-the-way places this beautiful country has to offer. For this type of riding, wouldn’t I be better served by the non-ABS model?

The current deals offered on the ABS version are very tempting, though. I value your impartial advice as, unlike the guys in the salesroom, you are not trying to flog me something.

Spannerman responds…

You have a tough decision to make, Andrew. The ABS (anti-lock braking system) on the V-Strom can’t be manually turned off and on, meaning you have it in the dirt whether you like it or not.

It’s possible to modify the ABS version so that you can turn it off but you’d run the risk on a new bike of possibly voiding the manufacturer’s warranty. Potentially, also, your insurance company would have a reason not to pay out if you were involved in a crash.

Here are a couple of things to think about. Most riders in your situation vastly over-estimate the proportion of time they actually end up spending on the dirt.

Typically, it will be around one per cent of total road time. If you fit into this category, ABS could be beneficial. It doesn’t mean you can’t ride off-road.

If you’re talking about outback dirt roads, you won’t even notice it’s fitted to the bike. It would only really get in the way of high-end dirt riding and racing, neither of which you may be inclined to do.

Good braking performance existed before ABS – it was called “threshold braking” where you could get the wheel just to the point before lock-up.

ABS is really an emergency system which increases the chance for most riders of surviving an emergency braking situation while still remaining upright. Many riders have ABS fitted to their bikes and, because of the way they ride, never actually experience it working.

Am I helping here? The current price deal for the ABS V-Strom 650 is very good and I can see why you’re tempted.

If you’re only going to be using it on dirt during your annual holidays, ABS is probably a good idea. If, on the other hand, you plan to spend much more time in the scrub, the earlier non-ABS V-Strom might be more suitable. As I say, tough decision…

Honda HISS
Honda’s HISS immobiliser system makes the bikes hard to pinch, but keep the key number or things can get very expensive!

Alex asked…

A friend of mine, Peter Hickey, talked to you about my Honda CB900 Hornet and its missing keys. I just wanted to say thank you for your suggestions: the information about being able to re-flash the computer proved a handy bargaining tool.

This situation is one probably quite a few people have suffered, though, so it might be worth bringing to the attention of your readers.

I bought the bike from a bloke who was essentially a loan shark. He’d taken it as collateral on a $3000 loan and sold it to me, registered, for $5000. It seemed like a good deal for both of us as it was still $2000 cheaper than the recommended price in the Red Book. What it didn’t have, though, was an owner’s manual or a spare key.

Then I lost the only key.

I telephoned my local Honda dealer and the quote was $2500 for parts and labour which included a new electronic control module, a new lock set and installation.

My problem seemed to be that I didn’t have the spare key or the details of the key number (due partly to the lack of an owner’s manual) or details of the original sale. Because the dealer didn’t have these details, he couldn’t program a simple replacement to fit my HISS system, which meant I needed a new ECM and matching key for the bike to run again.

I asked why Honda didn’t record the details of the keys, transponders and ECMs sold with the bike. Hyundai, for example, does this, but for whatever reason, Honda doesn’t.

I thought this was pretty nuts and called another of Peter’s contacts, Peter Rock of Rock Motorcycles in Port Macquarie.

He agreed that the situation seemed unlikely and, obviously as a favour to Peter rather than me, looked into it. He and his staff were able to locate the original dealership which sold the bike – Action Motorcycles in Parramatta. They hadn’t recorded the key number so it was a dead end.

Peter Rock then rang around a number of wreckers for me and achieved what I hadn’t been able to – a wrecker with the keys, ECM and associated bits from a Hornet which would replace the ones on my bike.

As expected, though, Joel at Hills Wreckers knew what the set was worth and charged accordingly ($1250). It was good value, though. Joel was helpful, efficient, and knew exactly what I needed – Hills provided a great service but my original “bargain” bike was starting to look more and more like an average buy.

With the parts in my hot little hands and an owner’s manual I downloaded from hornetsnest.co.uk, I tore my bike apart, reassembled it and was away again. To my mind, the bike pulls harder than ever before!

There are three morals to this story: always keep a spare key; there’s great service to be had at dealers and wreckers; and Peter Hickey knows everybody who is anybody.

Spannerman responds…

This is a sobering reminder, Alex, to owners of all bikes with electronic interlocks on their bike’s ignition – don’t lose the goddamn keys!

When you buy the bike new, it will come with two keys. One of them will have a small, metal tag attached to it with (in Honda’s case, for example) an eight-digit number. If you give this code back to a Honda dealer, he can (eventually) provide a new key that will work the ignition.

The Honda Ignition Security System (HISS) was introduced relatively quietly in 2003 and provides great security against ride-away thefts.

You can’t hot-wire the bike or start it by replacing the ignition switch module. My guess is that it has reduced theft generally because it’s also a disincentive for the blokes who just pick your bike up and put it in the back of a truck – they won’t be able to start the bike either without going through the same hassles you did.

You make an interesting point regarding the distributor keeping some kind of database of the key information so that someone in your position can retrieve the code and get a new key at a fraction of the cost you incurred.

Imagine, though, if the database fell into the wrong hands – suddenly it would be worth stealing bikes with electronic interlocks again.

It’s pleasing to read you got such good help from Peter Rock and Hills Wreckers. Knowing Peter Hickey, though, is a mixed blessing. He does rider training for Dubbo TAFE (along with running his beautiful farm) and his territory is a large part of NSW.
Many agricultural workers have been subjected to his stern discipline while learning how not to fall off.

Yes, he knows everyone, but, as Peter Rock would probably agree, when you hear Hickey’s voice on the other end of the ‘phone it usually means some kind of work will be involved. He’s a very generous networker, though, and it’s a pity there aren’t more like him.

Oh, one more thing – if anyone is planning to buy a modern bike from an auction, keep the key issue in mind. It’s the sort of thing that can turn a bargain into a very expensive mistake.

Yamaha Venture
“If, heaven forbid, your dearly beloved has spent too much time in the north paddock.” Send your letters directly to Spanner. Not us.

John asked…

My dearly beloved has resumed her interest in motorcycling with me and so it looks like I’ll have to retire my Triumph Tiger 955i and obtain an armchair with wheels fore and aft.

We’ve spent many an hour interviewing prospective machines including a Honda ST1300, H-D Roadking and the Kwaka Voyager but her regal rear has settled for the perch of a Yamaha Venture.

The particular one we’re interested in is an ’04 model with 40,000km on it. I quite like the bike but it has a front-end wobble which I’ve asked the dealer to fix before we go any further.

Are there any known faults with this model I can look forward to? Any idea of service costs?

A few of my mates have experienced steering-head bearing failure with their bikes at 30-40,000km and were amazed when shown the condition of the worn bits. The Venture I’m looking at, I suspect, has the same problems. What do you think?

Spannerman responds…

Steering wobbles are almost all caused by the back of the bike, John, not the front. The wobble is usually the front end trying to compensate for the bad advice it’s getting from the rear end.

Cruisers like the Venture are heavy and the rear suspension and tyre do a lot of hard work. At 40,000km, it’s reasonable to expect the rear suspension may need some attention.

It might simply be setting it up properly but springing and damping may have faded over time and replacement might be necessary.

If, heaven forbid, your dearly beloved has spent too much time in the north paddock and you intend to carry vast amounts of luggage around with you, the problem will be exacerbated.

Wobbles can also be the result of a worn rear tyre and may disappear just with the fitting of a new hoop.

What typically happens with steering-head bearings is that because the bike spends most of its life pointed in the straight-ahead direction, the bearings wear in that position.

When you try to steer off that position, you experience some resistance. Overcoming this usually results in the bike lurching in the direction you wanted to go but more suddenly than you wanted.

This is different to a wobble. To get the most service life out of steering-head bearings, they have to be held at the correct tension.

This means occasional adjustments but, if you have to make a mistake, the tension should be a little too loose rather than a little too tight.

Yamaha makes great cruiser engines and the Venture you’re looking at, provided it’s been serviced regularly, will have many years of service life left in it.

Brett asked…

I’ve just bought an ’06 Husky WR250 with 714km on the clock.

I’m not the tallest fella getting around and am after the names of some companies selling lowering links for the bike. I’m struggling to find anyone.

Any ideas?

Spannerman responds…

You’ll get a better result, Brett, if you have the rear spring lowered internally and drop the front forks to suit. There are suspension specialists in all capital cities that can do this for you and the price will vary from about $400–$700. I think this is a better alternative to a lowering link.

Kawasaki ZX9R
The ’98 ZX-9R (C1). Mick is having starting issues with his.

Mick asked…

I currently own a Kawasaki ZX-9R (’98 model) and am experiencing problems when travelling for prolonged periods on the freeway in the cold.

After about 10–15 minutes sitting on a constant 100km/h, the bike seems to lose power and it feels like the choke has come on.

Even if I attempt to accelerate, there’s a massive flat spot before all hell breaks loose. I’ve been told it’s because my carbs are icing up and there’s not much I can do about it. Is it because of the ram-air system?

Surely bikes that don’t have carb-heater kits don’t all suffer this problem? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Spannerman responds…

I’m presuming here, Mick, your model doesn’t already have carb heaters fitted to it. The ’98 ZX-9R (C1) started life without them but there was a running change mid-model to introduce the heater. Bikes with an engine number after ZX900CE026315 had the change.

If your bike does have the carb-heater system, it may not be working properly. The lines have filters in them which can block up over time and need to be cleaned.

No heater fitted? Your only alternative is to find a set of later-model carbs from the wrecker network.

While the symptoms you describe are consistent with icing-up, worn carbs can produce similar symptoms. How many kilometres has your C1 travelled?

Icing requires more than just cold weather and is relatively uncommon on bikes. The running change Kawasaki made, though, suggests it must have been an issue on the early C1s.

Spannerman reckons Giovanni and a Ducati make a pretty natural couple.

Giovanni asked…

I’ve owned Japanese bikes for the last 25 years (apart from a Guzzi V35 in or around the 1980s when I was in the beautiful Naples surroundings).

My current bike is a Yamaha FZ1 (2002) which I really like. All my mates are telling me that I should own a Ducati. If I went in that direction, would I get bored with it? Are they really underpowered in relation to Japanese bikes?

Spannerman responds…

You’ll be far from bored with the Ducati experience Giovanni (and they sure as hell aren’t slow) but you need to be prepared to pay more attention to the bike.

Japanese bikes are generally “set-and-forget” but keeping a Duke in fine fettle is a more involving experience. It’s how motorcycling should be, though.

If you’re doing 40,000km a year, stick with the Orient but if your rides are rare and full of pageantry, a Ducati will suit.

Brian asked…

I own an ’06 Pagsta Regal Raptor Cruiser 250 and, lately, it’s become hard to start in the cold weather.

My local mechanic says the carb is pitted and the only way to start it is to remove the air filter and cover the inlet with my hand. When it starts it runs okay.

Also, he says the rear chain sprocket is very small and I’m forever replacing it and adjusting the chain. Should I consider moving up to something like a Yamaha XV400 Virago or a Honda 400?

I’m 65 and have been riding for about 35 years. Would a 650 be more appropriate? I love my bike but I think it might be time to move on. I’m finding parts hard to get and I’ve noticed the front forks are starting to get pitted, too.

Spannerman responds…

This is a tiny bit hard to follow, Brian. Putting your hand over the air inlet will just richen the mixture. It might make sense if the carb is very worn but this usually results in a richer mixture anyway.

The combination of problems you’ve identified suggest it might be a good time to move on. The Pagsta is made in China and was one of the first cabs off the rank.

Chinese-manufactured bikes are improving on a daily basis but early ones did have issues with the quality of chroming and metal technology.

The Yamaha XV400 is a grey import (not officially imported by Yamaha Australia) so you might end up with problems with parts and service.

The Honda 400 cruiser is a very pleasant ride and comes, of course, with Honda reliability. It’s a full-size bike, though, and might be a bit of a surprise to you after the Pagsta. Get a test ride before you make any decisions.

Among the 650s is Yamaha’s well-proven and relatively inexpensive XVS650 Custom or Classic. It has a very low seat height and has the advantage of shaft rather than chain drive (no more changing rear sprockets!).

You should get a ride on one of these as well. Ten thousand members of the Ulysses Club can’t be wrong…

Gary asked…

I’ve been riding a Suzuki DL650 for the last five years and feel like a change.

I’m considering the Suzuki GSX1400 as I’ve always liked musclebikes and am a big Suzuki fan. Do you have an opinion on them?

I intend to do some two-up touring, a bit of commuting and some lazy, Sunday rides. Would it suit these applications?

Spannerman responds…

It sounds like the GSX1400 was made for you, Gazman.

I haven’t ridden one for a while but it has, as you’d expect, impressive grunt. It would certainly meet your touring and Sunday ride commitments.

It’s a big bike, though, and this gives it some commuting limitations.

A test ride would be a good idea as the one I rode had a soft seat which became uncomfortable over time. I do have a relatively fat arse, though.

They’ve been around since 2001 and have typical Suzuki big-four reliability and modest service costs. Oh, it looks a million dollars, too.

Suzuki GSX-R1100
Older Gixxer 11s are becoming highly prized and prices reflect this.

Another Brett asked…

I’m considering the purchase of a 1986-1988 model Suzuki GSX-R1100 within the next 12 months or so and have seen one advertised as a Japanese import.

Were the imported models the same as the Australian-delivered models?

Spannerman responds…

There will be some minor differences between the domestic Japanese and the Australian version, Brett, related to changes necessary to meet Australian Design Rules (ADRs) but they’ll be in things like position of indicators and such.

The engines and running gear will be the same so anything you need to buy (and can find) will be interchangeable. There was no power difference in engine output.

It’s good you’re getting in now – the early GSX-R1100s are rapidly appreciating in price and are becoming harder and harder to find.

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2 years ago

Spanner do in the biz… 👍👍