What Do You Mean, "It Won't Start?"

By Don Hamblin

A whole year or so of putting up with, "it won't start when it's hot," had finally gotten the best of me. I'd changed batteries; fuel filters, insulation under the tank, fuel lines, and even brands of gas. Everyone I talked to had a different idea. I'd even learned a bunch of technical stuff (some that I even understood) about fuel injection and fuel flow. Dealers would shake their heads and mumble, and friends would say, "why's he holding us up?"

Finally at the Return to Shilo rally, I asked Rick from Motorrad Electrick. Less than twenty seconds into my lament he interrupted me and finished my story. Even telling me that I have an '85 or '86 K100 with over forty thousand miles! My reply was, "OK, how do I fix it. And how much is this going to cost me?"

Rick tells me that it's just time to service my starter. Service my starter? Along with every other expensive service for the K bike, now I get to service my starter? Come on, isn't there an easier way to fix this problem? Rick tells me yes, I could buy a new relay (expensive, and he didn't think that was the real problem), or a new starter (if I really wanted to waste a bunch of money right off the bat). It's just that the starter needs to be cleaned every twenty thousand miles or so. In other words, not really taking any better care of my starter in its twenty's than I did my own body, is causing me troubles in its middle/late forties (motorcycle mid-life crisis!)


There's a reason why I'm not a technical director or anything like that; I'd rather ride than wrench - that sometimes even includes washing. I've also broken as many things in my lifetime as I've fixed. So, taking the bull by the tail, I called my new friend, John Zibell, and asked to use his garage and motorcycle lift. There's nothing wrong with being lazy! John tells me, "sure, I've had to do the same thing to Jean's K75. Bring it on over."

starter-cleaning2.gif  starter-cleaning3.gif

Using the lift made all the difference in the world. Everything's right at eye level. I love it! Remove the side panels, lift out the storage tray and computer, tilt up the battery, and there's the starter. A couple of bolts later and you can pull the thing out. (A little note here: It's a little more complicated than this, but any shop manual will "paint by numbers" you through the whole removal. Oh yeah, if you'll remember to let the bike completely cool, the starter slides right out - if not, a little prying is in order.)

Next you should set the starter in a vice (no, don't clamp it, just set it between the jaws - it's really too expensive a Japanese made BMW part to destroy like that) to steady while taking it apart. Keep real close track of the screws and stuff during disassembly so that you can put them all back again. The brushes are real important.


Now you'll be amazed at just how dirty the commutator is (that's the "copper colored" part near one end). That black "stuff" is your problem. A little brake cleaner should remove it all. If not, Rick had suggested using an ink eraser to make it really shine. That's it! Putting it back together is really a lot easier when all that "crud" had been dumped out of the case. Just "reverse" the disassembly process.


John suggested that we test it (you know, hook it up to the battery) and see if it still works. It did! We smile and start sticking all that stuff back on the bike. The acid test was to try it on the bike. Again it worked. That's it. An hour and a half on a Saturday afternoon, and faith is restored.

A quick stop for gas on the way home and no one said, "why's he holding us up?"