“Well, at least you have a plan.” (7/3/2017): OK city, 12 miles (0 miles dirt)

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In addition to the motorcycle’s problems, I was having difficulty keeping my phone charged. Now, if I had stator issues, this would be a symptom of motorcycle electrical system failure, but it was also possible that it was just the phone battery. After checking into the motel the day before, I had run 3 miles down the street to a local Verizon store where I was told that they couldn’t test the battery, but the phone was unusually hot. There was a battery store in the next parking lot, and I left my phone battery with them overnight after purchasing an aftermarket battery.

I woke up the next morning and no motorcycle shops were open. There were only a couple that had regular Monday hours, but those were closed for the holiday. I decided to pack up, check out, and do more trouble shooting in the battery store parking lot before possibly pushing on.

After warming up the bike, I put it in gear and started rolling out. Before making it out of the parking lot, the bike stalled when I pulled in the clutch for the first time. This is the first classic indication of stator failure and I had seen it a few days before my stator failed near the top of Pike’s Peak. That was 20k miles and 2 years ago. It could also be a spark plug problem or FI issue, but my spark plugs had many thousands of miles left and I’ve never had a problems running with old spark plugs and the FI light was still off and indicating no problem.

Before leaving the parking lot, I verified that the nearest Uhaul was only 1.5 miles from the motel and a mile from the battery shop. When I showed up to the battery store, I was told that my old battery was only charging to 35% and was definitely bad. This was probably good news. While I was there, I had them load test my motorcycle battery and it came back good. This left me with either a stator problem or a FI problem.

I set about pulling the rear fairing, which is made harder by all the extra bolts from the luggage rack. In the end, I managed to get one side loose enough to separate the plug between the stator and rectifier, which is all you need to do to troubleshoot the stator if you aren’t pulling it for a visual inspection.

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All of the stator and harness checks came back good, but the plug showed signs of arcing.

From my past stator issues and subsequent research, I knew that it was possible that simply replacing the stator and regulator/rectifier (R/R) with modern style aftermarket parts might not fix my electrical issues. Lots of VFR owners have had to take extra steps, all of which involve modifying the electrical harness. The simplest job is to cut out this plug and solder the stator directly to the R/R. The harder job is to replace the main electrical harness with what is known as the “VFRness”. If memory serves, this re-routes the R/R output to the battery only, running all other systems off of the battery instead of the R/R.

At this point, I strongly suspected that my as yet un-diagnosed and non-recurring flashing FI light was just a new-to-me symptom of stator failure and that my phone charging and stalling issues were the same symptoms of stator failure I had seen before. The next step was figuring out how fast I could get replacement parts. This was an important step because if I pulled the stator cover to inspect the stator for overheating and broke the stator cover gasket I was stuck.

The good news was that I could get a stator cover gasket in two days if I paid $60 shipping on a $12 part. The bad news was that no amount of outrageous shipping charges would get me a new stator and R/R in less than 9 days.

My options were now:

  1. Press on and hope for the best
  2. Diagnose the problem by pulling the stator cover to find:
    1. A burning up stator requiring 9+ days wait for parts
    2. A good stator leaving an unknown electrical issue
  3. Bail to Atlanta or Denver by Uhaul

I actually made it to the Uhaul store to ask for a quote on a box truck to Atlanta or Denver before my dad called and reminded me that the VFR forums suggest a soldering job might fix my problems. I was still pretty convinced I needed to bail and replace the stator in either Denver or Atlanta until I heard the quote. $1400 to Atlanta or $1200 to Denver.

My options were now:

  1. Press on and hope for the best. Zero up front cost. Risk of spending hundreds in a tow (despite 100 mile tow AAA coverage because there is a LOT of nothing in NM and even more in the Yukon) and still have to spend thousands in Uhaul.
  2. Diagnose the problem and find:
    1. A burning up stator.
      1. Sit in OK city waiting for parts. ~$600 motel up front cost. Risk repeat failure in less than 20k miles.
      2. Bail to Denver by Uhaul. $1200 up front cost. Hope that the stator is the only issue and a new one will last at least 12k miles.
      3. Bail to Atlanta and either fix the VFR or pick up the 4Runner. $1400 up front cost.
    2. An unknown problem.
      1. Bail to Denver or Atlanta as above.
  3. Wait for motorcycle shops to open. ~$120 up front cost. Chances are they’re going to tell me everything I already know, but they can check the ECU directly to tell me what the heck is going on with the FI and MIL codes.
  4. Cut the plug out, solder the wires together, and hope that the plug was causing all my problems. ~$60 up front cost in tools and parts and another $60 in motel costs. Risk fixing a problem but not THE problem and still having to bail as above.

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As soon as I could check back into the motel and find lunch, I walked to the nearby Lowe’s and bought a butane soldering iron, shrink wrap, flux, butane, and some spare 12 gauge wire. I already had a wire stripper/cutter/crimper in my tool kit (and I thought I had packed 14 gauge wire, but couldn’t find it).

The title of this post comes from the grizzled gray beard Lowe’s employee who showed me where the soldering irons were. When I told him why I wanted a cordless soldering iron (1400 miles from home working out of a motel on a motorcycle with electrical issues) and my general plan to sort it all out, he spoke his second full sentence to me: “Well, at least you have a plan.” He sounded like Sam Elliot.

That moment, when Sam Elliot told me at least I had a plan, will probably go down as a top ten moment of this otherwise cruddy summer unless some pretty cool stuff happens.

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After I got back to the motel, I put together the three ugliest soldered joints East of the Rockies and outside Massachusetts. The first picture in this post shows the aftermath of the prep work pulling the luggage racks and rear fairing. Everything went back together and the motorcycle fired right up!

I ran it three miles up the road to see if the cell phone charging issues had gone away. I would have run it further, but I hit the advancing front of a T-storm. Since the stalling out issue is an intermittent issue and mostly happens cold, I only had the one chance to use that symptom as a reality check on my potential fix. With the cell phone charging under full use on the way back, I was tentatively hopeful that I had fixed THE problem.

I spent the rest of the evening racing the T-storm on foot to a local used bookstore and bringing Subway back to the motel for dinner. I thought I was pretty slick when I walked into my motel room just before the downpour started, but when I got out of the shower the ceiling was leaking.

I got another room within sight of my parked motorcycle, moved my stuff, and watched an early Stargate SG-1 episode over dinner. Things were looking tentatively up. Very tentatively.

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