Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure


Motorcycle TourMagazine

About On The Mark

Having piloted a motorcycle for many years, Mark has many thoughts floating in his helmet and he's ready to share them with us.

Name: Mark Byers

Current Rides: 'BMW R65 and R1200RT, Honda Reflex Trials, XR-200 and CRF-230, Suzuki SV650 and V-Strom 650 ADV, Yamaha TTR-230, Beta EVO 250 2T Trials, Kawasaki Ninja 650 and (2)Triumph Street Triple R…

Favorite quote:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

- Winston Churchill

Secret Sauce

Last year, I sold my friend Wayne an ’06 Suzuki Vstrom. It is low-mileage for its age and is replete with farkles to make it ideal for bicycle-race officiating. It features LED driving lights, a heavy-duty headlight harness, an accessory fuse panel, and heated grips. It is a great bike, but there is a cautionary tale therein about the addition of aftermarket parts: if anything ever goes awry, you are going to work on it yourself because every dealer is going to run like hell when they encounter aftermarket installations.

There are a number of reasons. First, there is a vast disparity in abilities between those who install accessories. Most driveway “mechanics” have little idea what they’re doing beyond simple “plug and play” things and even then, they’re a risk, especially when electricity is involved. I’ve seen some scary installations, including lamp cord used to wire lighting that requires a fair amount of current. The area under the seat of one bike was a virtual rat’s nest of wires (with the requisite problems). A dealer’s tech, even a good one, could spend a career inside someone’s bike and still not find the sneak circuit or poorly-soldered wire that is causing the issues.

Second, there’s a product-liability issue. Thanks to our overly-litigious society and the folks who make their coin that way, no dealer wants to be associated with anything that isn’t factory- or dealer-installed. There’s too much risk that you will run off the road or have your headlights fail or have an accident for another reason and BLAME it on the dealer, irrespective of their actual culpability. The greater the volume of aftermarket goodies you’ve placed on your bike, especially electrical stuff, the greater chance you have of needing to work on it yourself.

Third, sometimes the aftermarket stuff literally gets in the way and adds to the time required for repairs or maintenance. Most service agreements mention that nonstandard stuff may be billed at a higher rate because moving your farkles to get to the repair or maintenance area may take extra time. Manufacturers have set times that things are supposed to take to maintain, but that goes out the window when the rat’s nest you installed is in the way, IF they will touch it at all.

So that brings me back to Wayne: his headlights stopped working. The driving lights worked and everything else on the bike worked, but neither headlight did. Like all good home troubleshooters, he went online and self-diagnosed it to a handlebar switch, which he changed…to no avail. THAT is when he found out just what dealers think of aftermarket gear. The local dealer took one look at the aftermarket headlight harness and relays and fuse panel, made a mildly disparaging remark about aftermarket stuff, and refused to work on it. That’s when I got the call. Here’s another ramification of farkling your own bike: EXPECT that call.

I was pretty sure it would be an easy fix since I knew the bike so well. For one, I install stuff with the quality of components and installation techniques associated with the aircraft on which I’ve worked for over 30 years. The voltmeter told his tale and by all appearances, everything was fine. Being the engineer I am, I had installed a backup means to directly jumper the headlights to the battery as a hedge against a failure of the fuse panel, and sure enough, when so connected, the headlights went back to normal. It was vexing, however, because the voltage was there. After trying a new relay just in case (no effect), I noticed a slight discoloration of the wire coming out of the fuse panel. A little more prying and it was clear that the junction of the heavy-gauge wire and the little screw that attaches it to the bus had gotten hot enough to cause a tiny meltdown without blowing the fuse. Bingo! That’s why I had voltage, but not enough current to run the lights.

I have a notion that, while the wire gauge is more than adequate, the contact area between the little screw and the wire was not sufficient and a little hot spot got created. This will soon be rectified, no pun intended, but the jumper I’d made allowance for is working just fine in the meantime. While we were working on the bike, I made sure to give Wayne a complete tour of the installations, including a lesson on how these particular relays work, because if anything ELSE happens, I don’t want him to be singing the Aftermarket Blues.