~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ceramic Snake Oil?

Gold Wings are known to be sensitive to wobble in the front end, depending on tires, head bearing issues, and other factors, so when my '02 Wing began shaking the handle bars slightly at 45mph I assumed it was developing the dreaded wobble which would then be fixed by better head bearings, better tires, and possibly proper alignment of the moon and stars.

After some weeks of enduring the wobble and dreading the cost of the fix the rear tire on the bike the real problem surfaced in the form of a delamination of the tire carcass. It was pretty evident that super glue or duct tape was not going to fix the problem:

By the time I got the bike home at a very slow speed not only was the back tire hosed but the front tire had some odd wear, no doubt started by the slight wobble that had appeared a few weeks earlier. Time for two new tires. Grrr. The Metzlers still had a few thousand miles of tread on them and pulling them off was a terrible waste but obviously there was nothing else to be done.

I headed down to my local bike service center where I've gotten to know the owner. Tom ordered up a set of new Bridgestone tires for the Wing and the bike sat parked for several days before the tires came in.

I'm going to say right here that I could have bought the tires a little cheaper on-line or even at a shop up in Phoenix but I do truly believe in supporting the independant local dealer even if it costs a little more. I put my money where my mouth is. Without such dealers it's only a matter of time until you'll have to get your bike parts at Wal-Mart and have it serviced at Pep Boys and that will be the beginning of the end for civilization as we know it.

After the tire was removed I bandsawed a section out. This is what I found.

When the new tires came in I asked Tom if they static or spun balanced the tires. "Neither" he said "We put DynaBeads in everything." Oh crap...DynaBeads. They are a small, ceramic beads (smaller than a BB) and you dump about 2 oz of them inside the tire and some how they magically balance the tire as you go down the road. They are sold by a company called Innovative Balancing. I'd read about them on one of the the Gold Wing forums and DynaBeads are a subject of much controversy amongst Gold Wing owners, usually being lumped in with fuel line magnets to improve fuel economy and little silver bells on the foot boards to keep the boogie man away when you ride.

Regular 40on2 readers will know that I'm a bit of a retro-grouch and putting little magic ceramic balancing beads in my bike's tires was going to happen about the same time I started wearing "Power Ranger" riding gear. In this case Tom was going to put the beads in and in fact didn't even have a tire balancer in the shop. Deep sigh. OK fine, I'll be back and demand the tires be balanced properly when the magic beads don't work.

Down the road I go with the new Bridgestones under me. I keep looking for the Gold Wing wobble at 45 mph. Nothing. I speed up, slow down, take my hands off the bars, ride with one hand, grab the bars and accelerate to 100 mph (on a closed course under supervised conditions, naturally...). Dead smooth at all speeds. No shake, no wobble, no tire vibration. Nothing. Obviously the wobble I'd been feeling was the Metzler starting to slowly come apart. I remained unconvinced about the DynaBeads though, certain that somehow the tires would soon show their true out-of-roundness and begin to wear funny and shake. Nope. Smooth. I double checked the rims to make sure Tom had not snuck some weights on there. Nope. Hmm... How can a production motorcycle tire be so round and need no weights whatsoever to be balanced? Not likely. The magic beads seemed to be working.

All that was a month or so back. The Gold Wing rides as smooth as it can be. I'd like to say the fuel economy was better to and my bald head was growing hair but that might be expecting too much from the beads. I pondered the physics of tire balancing, read some stuff on it, talked to a couple of engineers at work, and came up empty. I know that using round objects in tires as a balancing method has been messed with since maybe the 1930's or so and never gained any real acceptance, and especially not from vehicle or tire manufacturers.

Now, my neighbor Jim bought a very nice 2000 Yamaha Venture a few weeks ago. Wonderful retro styling and color (the bike, not Jim), and I'm pleased to say I was the one who found it for him and badgered him until he caved in and bought it. It was for his own good, trust me. Friends don't let friends ride a KLR650 forever.

Jim's been really pleased with the bike but it wasn't as smooth as he thought it should be, not even close to as smooth as the Gold Wing he'd rented a couple of months ago when we did a weekend jaunt to Globe, AZ. No surprise there as nothing except sailboat is as smooth as a Gold Wing. He insisted something didn't feel quite right so we looked the tires over carefully, checked pressures, theorized about engine mounting bolt torque, and all the usual mechanical possibilities and causes. No doubt memories of the recently separated tread on my Gold Wing's rear Metzler danced in his head. Having just parted with several thousand bucks for a bike with near new tires he wasn't keen on now buying a new set of tires.

Finally I swallowed my pride and said "Maybe you should order some DynaBeads and try them in the tires. For $20 or so, it couldn't hurt to try." There. I said it. I was out of the closet on DynaBeads. Not just a convert but actually recommending them to a friend. My membership in Retro-Grouch International might be revoked for that one.

So the DynaBeads were ordered, they arrived in due course and Jim put them into the Yamaha's tires yesterday afternoon. After dinner we hopped on our bikes and headed off for a smooth piece of fresh pavement I knew about. Of course I knew they wouldn't work and I'd look like an idiot for recommending them and then I'd feel guilty and reimburse Jim for his wasted $20. Before we got to the smooth road we stopped for fuel and Jim said "I can feel the difference already. It's much better."

On the smooth pavement he ran it up to 80 mph or so, accelerated, decelerated hard, easy, hands off, the whole "make it wobble and vibrate" routine. Nothing. Smooth. Not as smooth as the Gold Wing but then the Yamaha V-four isn't as smooth as the Wing's flat-6. Out to the freeway for a little extended blast at 80+. Still smooth.
Back at the house we conferred. "How much better would you say it was than before?" I asked. Jim replied "I'd say it's about an 80% improvement and even the front of the bike, which I though was smooth already, feels better." Whew.

I hate to admit it but somehow the DynaBeads not only do what Innovative Balancing says they do but I went ahead and ordered some for my Ford F250 pick up.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Recommended Reading

I received an e-mail from Prateek Sadhukhan, who writes the Life and Motorcycle blog in India, asking if he could link to my blog. Usually I get requests from people asking me to link to their blog and then find they are some shallow effort only recycling old motorcycle news and selling Viagra or dirty pictures. Pass on those. Happily, I am pleased to be linked to Life and Motorcycle because it represents what is to me amongst the best in motorcycle blogging.

I wrote back to Pratreek:

Hello Prateek,

You are most certainly welcome to link to my blog and I would be pleased to return the favor and link to yours. I spent a little time reading about your adventures and enjoyed it a great deal. I will certainly read more. I was discussing with friends the other day the commonality of motorcycling, the shared experience that ties motorcyclists around the world together regardless of nation, religion, or type of machine ridden. For those of us riding in the West your blog is excellent proof of that fact. I think all world political and religious leaders should be required to ride motorcycles regularly. Many would learn more about respect for their fellow Man, life, and a few would be usefully eliminated by the process of Darwin's natural selection theory.

Safe journeys


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