‘The Greatest Mechanical Mind of all Time’. That is one hell of a quote and heavy mantle to carry around. Fortunately it has nothing to do with Spannerman.

Nevertheless, he has given out a great deal of advice over the years. Let’s check out some more of his incredible work…

BMW R 755 classic spannerman
We reckon it’s a pretty comfortable old beast, but a reader wants to modify his.

Stephen Saunders asked…

I’m getting old and need to adapt a more comfortable stance on my BMW R75 so I thought I’d fit a pair of wider and higher ’bars.

My first thought was a set from the R 100R T but I’ve discovered why I never really felt comfortable when I owned one years ago: the pullback leaves the wrist at a very un-neutral, unnatural angle. I thought a set from an R100 or an R80GS (or perhaps an F650) might fit, the required bar diameter being the issue at 22mm. Any advice on which model might interchange?

Spannerman: You’re a bit stuck with ’bars of that diameter, Stephen – any replacement would just about have to be a BMW item and, as you’ve discovered, there’s a limited range of options.

Handlebar risers would lift the ’bars and bring them slightly closer to you but I’m unaware of anyone who makes them for the R75. You could, of course, make some yourself without much trouble.

You need longer bolts to hold the bars on (8 x 1.25mm All Thread from a bearing or bolt supplier) and perhaps two extra spacers on each side.

This would give you around an inch of extra height and the ’bars would be closer to you as well. Cheap, too.

four cylinder motorcycle

James Sutherland wrote…

I read your Ural test from a few years back and thought you might be interested in my experiences.

I bought mine in a crate from Capitol Motors for $499 in 1976 when they were exiting the scene. The price was determined by the fact that anything sold in NSW then over $500 had to come with a warranty.

I bought it in a fit of pique at my Ducati 450’s vibration and Desmo valves and I couldn’t resist the price and the concept of it being in a crate, having been brought up on the myth of Harley-Davidson WLAs in crates being secretly buried at the end of the war.

Once removed from the crate, assembly consisted of fitting the front wheel and putting acid in the battery. There was oil in the engine already!

I did about 30,000km in the first couple of years and, thereafter, only rode it occasionally. There were a few problems. The front brake was poor and didn’t work in the rain.

I replaced it with a Honda 350 brake which did a reasonable job. The carbs leaked so I replaced them with Mikunis. The tool kit was lost or stolen but I still have the tyre pump, tyre gauge and the grease gun.

Regarding your comments on smooth gearchanges, you need to double shuffle – a pause is not enough. It soon becomes second nature.

Additionally, I don’t know about the current model, but mine had an actual neutral between third and top for coasting down hills.

I sold it in 1984 when I bought a 1979 Honda CBX1000, which I sold a couple of years ago. It had 150,000km on it and was still going strong.

Talk about bad timing.

Spannerman: Sounds like you had a pretty good run from your Ural, James.

I’m sure most of them sold from Capital Motors didn’t make it to 30,000km.

The Mikuni conversion was a good idea and would have made quite a difference to performance. The originals had thin, low float bowls that would heat up when the bike was running and vapourise the fuel.

The quick fix was to dip a couple of handkerchiefs in a convenient puddle and tie them around the floats to keep them cool. You had to find a puddle every five kilometres or so, though.

I’m interested in the “double shuffle”. Can any Ural owners out there confirm that this is the ‘correct’ way to change gears without the awful noise?

For the uninitiated (probably everyone reading this under the age of 50), a double shuffle is when you engage the clutch to change from, say, third to forth, lift the lever into the neutral between the gears, let the clutch out until the engine revs die to whatever revs it will be doing in the higher gear, engage the clutch again and lift the lever into the higher gear.

Changing down is the reverse of this except you have to rev the engine between the gears so that it’s spinning at the required revs before you move into a lower gear.

Honda Firestorm VTR 1000 Classic Spannerman
VTR camchain tensioners can be a problem.

Doug Jefcoate asked…

I remember putting my ’98 Honda Firestorm in for its 22,000km service. All was fine until the mechanic took it for a test ride and came back pushing it.

It seems the number one cylinder timing chain jumped two teeth. What could have caused this? The shop said the spring inside the tensioner had broken.

We were replacing both chains, tensioners and inlet valves and it was a very expensive service. I’ve spoken to a few other mechanics who told me they’ve never heard of this before but one said it was a problem with early VTRs and that tensioners should be changed at the 22,000km service. Any thoughts?

Spannerman: There’s a fair bit of talk on the internet, Doug, claiming camchain tensioners on the VTR are a problem, particularly on the number one cylinder.

Have a look at the technical forum on www.vtr1000.org

Against this, I haven’t heard about much local workshop activity in relation to the problem, so it might be rarer than the website suggests.

Certainly, if the tensioner spring broke or some other tensioner problem occurred (as can happen, for example, if you back off suddenly from high revs), it’s possible for the chain to jump a tooth or two, resulting in the outcome you’ve described.

You might like to fit APE manual camchain tensioners instead of the original equipment items, as the manual tensioners are far less prone to fragile performance.

Yamaha YZF600R
The Thundercat. Weird name, pretty ordinary bike.

Luke Considine wrote…

About the now ageing Yamaha YZF600R Thundercat. For a bike with such a silly name, it really was an unbelievably capable little goer. I can vouch for it, having put 20,000km on mine in a little over a year of service, which included regular commuting, weekend scratching, 1000km weekend tours (with topbox fitted), pillion rides (with no complaints) and multiple track days.

I often got some strange looks arriving at the track with the topbox on, but five minutes later it’s gone and I had my knee down in Turn One.

With its Yoshi pipe, it even sounded better than most litre bikes.

Why the hell would I sell it? I’ll tell you why: I got the track bug in a serious way and needed more power, power, power and less weight, weight, weight!

Spannerman: Good luck with the new bike. I hope you didn’t crash, crash, crash.

Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit Classic Spannerman
The Bandit 1200. Is it the world’s most underrated bike?

Keith Robinson wrote…

I have a 1999 Suzuki Bandit 1200 and while the front discs are floating, I’m not sure how much float/play they should have. I’ve been told the more play the better, but I’m having trouble buying that. My thought is too much sideways play could push the pads back into the calipers, giving unreliable initial feel when braking.

As it stands, I don’t see it as a problem on my bike. What I am concerned about is the fore and aft movement of each disc. One disc, measured at the outer disc edge, has little play but the other has play of approximately 1mm. I know it doesn’t sound much but it feels a lot with hand movement. I don’t feel any effect of this while braking.

It’s been like this since I owned the bike from near new to now at 54,000km. The EBC brake manufacturer website says that if the rivets are too tight the disc can warp due to heat, but it doesn’t mention anything about what’s acceptable movement.

On top of this, there doesn’t seem to be a way of lessening the movement, so what is normal and acceptable, before you say the rivets are worn out?

Spannerman: I’m with you on your sideways play thinking, Keith – too much will have a detrimental effect on the feel and performance of the brakes. The way floaters are designed, though, doesn’t allow for easy wear in sideways movement.

Fore and aft, on the other hand, can be a concern. A small amount of movement (and I’d consider 1mm to be small) isn’t dangerous. The fore-and-aft movement on race bikes can get to the stage where you can actually hear it clatter as you push back and forward.

In theory, once it starts it should get worse fairly quickly, so it’s hard to explain how you can have covered 50,000km without any noticeable change. Maybe you’re just very easy on the brakes. The wear that allows fore/aft movement could be in the buttons (rivets) but is more likely to be in the disc itself.

You’re obviously keeping your eye on the situation and will know if the wear increases to the point where you need to consider replacing the disc and/or buttons. This time might be when you can hear it as well as feel it.

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Lloyd Jones
Lloyd Jones
2 years ago

Reading about the VTR Hondas always piques my interest and sure enough up comes the old cam chain tensioner question.
I have a cautionary tale to tell if you care to listen.
My example hit 65000 klms and things got a bit clattery so on advise I bought a set of manual tensioners and proceeded to ‘ bolt them on ‘ .
The rear was straightforward enough so I moved on to the front one and merrily removed it and put the new one in. I then turned the adjustment bolt on both till I felt some pressure and pressed the start button.
The engine stated to turn over then a TOCK noise was heard and nothing moved. My reaction was Oh Shit What Have I Done and I took the bike to my friendly shop and he heard my story.
 “When you took the front one out did it make a ‘click’ noise?’ he asked.
After some thought I replied “I think it did, I can’t say a sound jumped out at me to tell the truth, but yes I do believe it did”.
“Did the engine turn over and fire at all?” was the next question
“No, I pushed the button and it tried to, but it stopped almost immediately with a TOCK sound, hence me talking to you now.” At this point the Oh Shit What Have I Done feeling came over me like a wave of fear.
“You may be lucky; if it tried to start you would have trashed the engine. Another shop I know of tried to replace those out the front of the shop because they thought they would ‘bolt in’. What happens is the front cam chain, when loose, drops off the cams and jumps a tooth, that’s the click noise.  The rear one doesn’t because gravity holds in on. The shop in question had to replace the guy’s engine. You need to take the front cam cover off and hold the chain on the cam wheels then remove the tensioner.  Let’s pull yours down and we will see what you did. “
Fortunately for me, I only bent the inlet valves. The piston only moved up the bore a short distance and no spark fired so I got away with it ……After getting the bike back with new valves in, he had an issue getting the valve timing right, couldn’t quite get the marks to line up, and gave it back to me to play with.
“You cant do any more harm, you need to set them by trial and error, if I do it it will cost a bomb and I don’t know even then if it will run right, so you may as well do it . “ 
So I became an expert on stripping the bike down to expose the cams, resetting them, test riding the bike and trying again. I found I had 3 choices, none of them perfect and got the best result on the middle of the 3.
Now the cam chains on those things are quite long so I came to the conclusion at 65000 klms they had stretched and this was throwing out the timing. I ended up doing 98000 and sold it for what it was worth, the value of the upgraded suspension, polished wheels and the exhaust.
Moral of the tale is the VTR is beyond economic repair by a shop at 65000 klms and I didn’t deem it a good enough bike to replace the chains.