Waking the Sleeping Beast

A certain amount of tension and stress rises in people when they come to start an engine for the first time. This is true for folk who are held in high esteem as 'professionals' as well as the most inexperienced amateur. Taking a few simple steps, most of which will have self-explanatory reasons behind them can reduce this stress and lower the risk any form of heart attack.

I'll assume, for this FAQ, that the engine is standard and has been refitted to a bike chassis. If this isn't the case and any mention is made of situations that do not occur in the readers circumstance, the reader will have to think a little and modify your actions accordingly.

The Triple engines are lubricated (internally) by two methods. Oil that is pumped under pressure and oil that is flung around. This is often called 'splash'. Both forms of lubrication will take a little while to build up so anything that the reader can do to decrease this time will be of advantage. Some simple steps have major effects.

I do NOT recommend, or use, the seeming simple procedure of kicking the engine over time after time, or pushing the bike along a road until oil is seem returning to the oil tank. This practice has the effect of allowing some parts to rub past each other without lubrication for a considerable period of time. The 'splash' lubrication hasn't started at all. So, unsatisfactory. To allow the 'splash' system to give any oil to the engine internal so supplied there needs to be a quantity of oil already inside the engine and this will be have to but placed there by the reader. So, now some instructions.

Before thinking of attempting a start at all, I suggest you take a mental step back from the bike and run a 'check list'

Are ALL oil hoses connected?
Are all clips and junctions tight?
Is the drain plug fitted to the oil tank, gearbox and (if fitted with an aftermarket sump plate) sump plate?
Is the ignition fully wired, and the wiring in good order with all connections tight? Is the ignition & engine confirmed as 'earthed?
Is the ignition timing correct or as correct as possible?
Is the battery fully charged?
Is the ignition 'kill' switch in the 'run' position, and has this been confirmed by ensuring there is power to the ignition system?
Are the carbs in good order and not been left dry for a long time? If so it will be worth putting some fuel in them before the initial start attempt to prove they do not leak. These nothing so annoying as doing all the below procedure and then not being able to complete the work due to a carb leak or an electrical failure.

If time allows, just a few days before the start is going to be attempted put 3 pints of oil, or thereabouts, into the oil tank. A small amount of this will possibly creep down the feed hose towards the oil pump. This can not be a bad effect. If the reader has fitted an aftermarket, suction opened, oil tank 'check' valve I suggest that some oil be injected into the oil pump by 'squirting' some down the feed line to the pump with an oil 'squirt' can, as the pump needs to be wet to generate the suction that will be required to open this check valve. I, personally, do not like these valves and feel that there should be no valve or restrictor that has to be opened by suction on the suction side of an oil pump. To explain a little further, why introduce a restriction is an oil line that another school of thought wants to increase in size (from the original T150/A75 and early T160) 5/16" internal to 3/8" internal?

On start day, complete the lubrication and then start the engine without further delay. To complete the lubrication squirt a small can (about 20% of a pint) of oil into each valve spring pocket. This can be reached using the spout of the squirt can under the rocker shafts. Of course the valve clearance inspection covers need to be removed to give this access. If the reader can squirt fast enough the speed the pocket drains at will be exceeded and the oil will build up high enough to lip over the top of the valve guide and it'll give the stem a bit of a feed. Use the squirt can to dribble some oil along the top of the rockers, particularly at thackery washer end of the rocker. Dribble some oil at the front arm of the rocker so that the valve stem and rocker adjuster is lubricated. Remove the 57-2166 plugs in the rear of the rocker boxes and squirt a small quantity of oil directly down the pushrod tunnels. This'll give the cam followers a wetting. At the same time ensure a little oil hits the back arm of the rocker, so that is runs down past the ball pin into the pushrod cup. Careful during these operations or the reader will need the next suggestion. Clean off the excess oil you've spilt down the exterior of the engine...... Seal the squirt can, if possible, to the rocker feed pipe (using the hose that comes from the main oil return lines) and fill these lines, keeping the feeling of 'pressure' on the squirt can handle for a little while so the rocker shafts are well wetted.

Fill the primary drive with 2 pints of oil. Fill it slowly, after the first 1/2-pint. The amount used over and above the correct primary drive fill figure (in the owners handbook and workshop manual) will drain slowly through the drive side main bearing into the crankcase. This is wanted there so that the crankshaft has oil near it in the crankcase to be picked up by the breeze caused (also known as windage) by the crank rotating and splashed into the cylinders and over the camshafts.

I don't usually put any oil into the timing cover (through the timing aperture) as the level hole drilled towards the bottom of the space would drain the oil back to the crankcase before the start was made, but there is no damage at all done by adding a small amount here if the reader wishes.

The gearbox is filled with either its quantity of oil (from the books) or level checked (by model dependant level plug within the drain plug, or dipstick).

Using new fuel, freshly purchased from the petrol station, flood the carbs and start the engine. I suggest that at the initial start, unless something is wrong that requires an immediate stop, that the engine be run at 2500rpm or so until it is gently warm and the oil tank (don't worry that it's not at it's 'full' level, you've only filled the bike with the initial 3 pints in the tank and the 3 or so via the primary drive and valve gear lubrication. The whole idea of the low amount in the oil tank was so that there was no chance of the oil tank overflowing) gently warm too. Now the engine can be stopped and the oil level checked and adjusted. If the head gasket used requires a zero miles re-torque the engine can be allowed to cool and this undertaken a few hours later. If not it's time for a good external visual inspection and then a glass of celebratory (or commiseratory) beer.

If the reader is working in chill conditions it can be very helpful to pre-warm the engine before attempting a start. While doing the lubrication works I have found it useful to have a hot air blower (I used a domestic fan heater or, on one occasion, a hair dryer) heating the engine for an hour or so. The rotational speed achieve by the initial kick-start is much improved and starting is easier.

As a word of caution: I suggest you think of safety too, both your safety and the bikes! Do have another person on hand when you attempt the actual start and do have to hand an up-to-test-date Fire Extinguisher. Dry Power ones are very effective but very messy. I have a CO2 one and a dry power one in my workshop. I'd use the CO2 one first if the fire were small and be prepared to reach quickly for the Dry Power if required. Most 'start-up' fires (and they are very uncommon anyway) are caused by either a wiring 'short' or a carb 'back-fire'. Both can often be dealt with quite adequately with the CO2 extinguisher.

hth, and enjoy the beer!


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Triple Cycles
95 Wanstead Park Road
Telephone: +44 20 8215 4583 (answerphone only, unless by arrangement)
Facsimile: +44 20 3137 2295

Copyright © 2006 Philip Pick
Version 0.1 Date December 2007