While riding home from work the other night on one of the latest test bikes, I found that the headlight’s low beam wasn’t aimed up high enough. Although the beam’s pattern and brightness were excellent, the amount of pavement that was lit up was insufficient to really be safe, so I made a mental note to adjust them when I got home and had some spare time.
Dawdling down to the garage later, I figured it would be a simple five-minute task of locating the adjustment screw, grabbing the correct size wrench, and getting everything dialed. As I peered down into the cavity below the instrument panel behind the headlight assembly, I discovered that even accessing any of the bolts surrounding the assembly — nevermind the proper one for adjustment — would be nearly impossible unless I had an incredibly flexible wrench…or removed some parts. I continued searching around, thinking that I must have missed the adjustment screw that was within easy reach. This couldn’t be that complicated, could it?
An hour later — after removing two body panels, some plastic guards, the right side ram-air intake duct, and moving some wires out of the way — I was finally able to access the proper adjustment screw. Then I had to spend another 45 minutes buttoning everything back up after adjusting the headlights.
We continually marvel at how the current supersport bikes are compact and lightweight, with overall sizes that are similar to 250cc machines of decades past. The obsessive engineering push to make everything as small and light as possible has resulted in our enjoying a generation of sportbikes with unrivaled agility and handling — never mind incredible speed.
But there’s a definite price to be paid for this day and age of ultra-compact machinery: maintenance tasks that used to be so easy that you could practically do them in your sleep are now complicated enough that they seemingly require a mechanical engineering degree.
Changing spark plugs on most current supersport bikes makes that headlight adjustment ordeal seem like child’s play. Most bikes require that you remove some bodywork, and some even require lifting the fuel tank. Many sportbikes also require that you loosen or even remove the radiator mounts so that it can be swiveled outward for more room (as well as prevent you from damaging the cooling fins in your awkward attempts to get at the spark plugs).
The relatively tiny 10mm spark plugs that are common now are so deeply recessed into the cylinder head that you usually need to use the plug wrench included with the bike’s toolkit, and that wrench is so long that it often needs some creative maneuvering within the tight confines above the cam cover to get into the spark plug hole. And the engine better be cooled off before you attempt to perform this task, unless you like first-degree burns on your wrists and forearms.
Even changing the engine oil is no longer a simple case of sliding a catch pan underneath the bike and replacing the oil filter. Some bodywork removal is often required on many machines, and many have the exhaust system’s header pipes running directly underneath the drain plug. This usually means either placing something over the exhaust system to keep the oil off, or having a can of contact cleaner handy to remove any residue afterward, lest you suddenly have your neighbors thinking your garage is on fire or you’ve joined the local mosquito abatement council when you start up the bike.
Same for the oil filter. Although some are mounted on the side of the engine for easy access, most are in front of the oil pan, situated behind the exhaust header pipes. The spin-on oil filters now commonly used often require the correct size filter wrench (a large socket-type wrench that fits over the top of the filter) because access in that area is too cramped to use other tools such as the band-type clamps…or even your hand.
The battery used to be a simple matter of pulling off the seat and quickly gaining access. Now with mass centralization taking hold throughout the motorcycle world, that rather heavy component is often moved to a spot that depends more on engineering design than easy access and maintenance.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Despite all the extra work required for these formerly mundane maintenance tasks, the performance benefits reaped from the drive to make every component as compact and light as possible is completely worth it. All it takes is an aggressive carve into your favorite corner or a quick blast at your favorite racetrack to bring all the hassle into perspective. sr