F650 Chain Slap

I’m pretty attentive to the sounds coming out of my F650, in spite of the fact that when I’m riding most of what I hear is the wind. Underneath the wind I can hear tires on pavement, chain purring, exhaust note, intake sound, valve train slippity-slick, and the clicking as I change gears. But mostly, it’s the wind.

Ordinary wind noise is one thing, but under certain conditions you can hear some relatively loud snapping and popping around the helmet. All wind. So when I began to hear an occasional clatter in roughly those same conditions, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on.

My response to sound coming out of the bike is pretty subjective anyway. Sometimes I think the engine has something seriously wrong with it, but over time I have concluded it’s just me. For one thing, every Spring I stop wearing the balaclava under my helmet and I can hear a lot better. Or maybe I’m easing the bike into its shelter and I don’t have my helmet on and the sound is reflecting back off the small enclosure with my head at the epicenter. If I’m honest about it, it has probably been making those same noises for 20,000 miles, ever since I bought it.

Except this latest clatter seems new. And although it’s not there all the time, it’s definitely enough to notice.

I had recently lowered the bike, so that was a clue. One person posted that they had a clatter from their lowered F650 and raising it back up made the sound go away. But I like my bike lowered.

I really needed to find out what it was, but the internet wasn’t yielding anything.

Until I got around to wondering if the chain was hitting something. Maybe slapping against the guides. When I Googled that directly, I came up with a whole new set of posts, people with exactly that problem, especially on bikes with large suspension travel.

If you Google “Motorcycle Chain Slapping” and select videos, you can watch your dual sport chain perform some pretty amazing antics. The swing arm has a resilient cushion for the chain to hit, but I think the material is hard enough and tight enough against the metal so that the chain slapping it can produce a loud ringing bang.

To put it more in perspective, it’s like your suspension bottoming out. You don’t like it when it happens, but its not a big problem unless it is happening a lot.


Chain slider/guide/protector. 10″ legs wrapped around the top and bottom of the swing arm.

What to do? BMW dealerships have responded by tightening the chain, with varying success. One suggestion was to put a shim between the swing arm and the protector so you have a large length of space between the protector and the swing arm, lessening the slapping on an otherwise hard stackup of material, transmitting less of the slap to the metal. Seems like a good idea. Another approach is to tighten the rear suspension, which effectively raises the bike a little.

In my case, I had been running my chain loose, so I tightened the it to the tight side of the specification. That helped quite a bit.

Also, I had been running my rear suspension with minimum preload, so I increased it about 1 1/2 turns on the knob. That seemed to help also, to the point where I can’t really tell if it is slapping or not.

The issue of chain slapping is a new concept for me and I won’t say that I am completely satisfied with the present much-improved setup, but I am relieved to know what that sound is.

I couldn’t convince myself it was wind noise and I was right.


But I do love this bike!


Lowering the F650

Yes, I’ve seen those videos of a short guy riding a DRZ400 with a 37″ seat height, mounting it like a bicycle. And read about “sissies” who lowered their bikes only to reverse them back to the more manly original height. What’s the big deal about dropping a bike anyway? Some people do it several times a season.

On the other hand, most of the bikes on the road are low-seat cruisers. Why is that?

I also see Can Am Spyders and a surprising number of HD trikes and a few sidecar rigs like the vintage Ural up the street from me. Adding a third wheel helps keep the whole thing upright, but you lose a big part of the 2-wheel magic.

I can ride a tall bike, but I don’t have to. I could ride a short one. A light one. Or a  three wheeler. But I have yet to find a bike that beats my 1997 BMW F650, all things considered, so why not just see if I can make it a little easier to ride.

The stock seat is 32″ high and about 10″ wide. It’s hard to stretch your legs over something that wide and still get your feet down onto the ground. My modest 30″ inseam doesn’t help.

I can flat foot it if I really work at stretching my legs over the narrowest part of the seat. Typically though, sitting at a light my heels are a bit off the ground or one foot flat down and the other touching down on the ball of the foot.

I had dropped the bike once, four years ago while duck-walking a turn over a rough spot in my primitive driveway. It was early days of getting back into motorcycling. That’s my excuse. Since then, I’ve managed to keep the rubber side down.

So I can manage 450 lbs. of relatively high center of gravity motorcycle with my feet not comfortably flat on the ground, but I thought I would see what a lower version would be like.

I bought a used $150 BMW lowering kit on eBay that included the longer links, shorter side-stand and shorter center-stand.

The links change out pretty easily with the bike on the center stand and the rear wheel removed. The side stand is easy and the center stand is a little less easy. The difficult part is stretching the stand return springs back on.

The seat is now 29.5″. I didn’t touch the front end.

Yes, it’s easier to handle the bike on rough or uneven ground or in parking lots, backing up and generally horsing it around in the driveway, but what I didn’t expect was the improvement in side wind gust resistance at speed on the highway. It tracks better and is more of a straight line machine than it was before.

Of course, it doesn’t steer quite as quickly as it did. Something to get used to. But I’m a conservative rider and it doesn’t seem to be a problem for my riding style. And I can still swerve around obstacles in the road.

Rake and Trail

The lowering kit increases the rake by about 3 degrees to 31, putting it into cruiser territory. The trail also increased and is now about 5 inches. Rake is the angle the fork makes with the vertical. If you extend this line to the pavement it will be in front of the point where the tire contacts the road and the distance between those two points is the trail. The rake/trail of a sport bike is typically 26/3, a dual sport 28/4, and a cruiser 32/5.

Screenshot 2018-06-02 at 7

CycleWorld rake and trail illustration. A is the rake angle. B is the trail distance.

I could reduce the rake and trail by lowering the front end also, but I want to get used to it the way it is before changing anything.


It looks and feels a bit less dual sport and a bit more standard than it did before and that is okay with me.

Easier to handle when stopped on uneven ground. Easier to back up. Steering a little slower. It was probably too quick before anyway. Fantastic wind stability.

The original windshield is now throwing more rough air at my helmet so I want to try a taller windshield to see if I can quiet things down. As it is now, no windshield at all is better because the helmet air is not turbulent.


My ’97 F650 lowered to 29.5″ seat height




BMW F650 Maintenance – Brakes – Part 2


Where I left off before going to get the rear tire mounted at BMW

I took the rear wheel down to the BMW dealership in North Hampton, NH and they mounted a new Metzler Tourance 17″ tire on the rim.  Balanced it. They always put in a new tube as well. The technician said the Tourance has an extremely stiff sidewall and the tire machine wouldn’t handle it and he had to fall back to using the spoons.

I said, “Yeah, they’re like concrete.”

He said, “No, concrete has some flex to it. These don’t have any.”

I knew what he was talking about because I had mounted the previous one myself, using the spoons. Well, that experience is why I wanted them to do it.

He said a Dunlop tire, for example, is much more flexible.

But here is a new concept for me. In case of a flat tire or nearly flat tire, I could probably ride on the Tourance with very little air in it. The technician said as much. It’d be tough to change beside the road, but I would be more likely to make it to a garage or home riding on it nearly flat.

I hope I don’t have to test this theory but, on the other hand, it would be good to know if that stiffness is worth anything in a pinch.

Next time around I might try something else. Not sure. I do like the idea of being able to reasonably get the tire off the rim myself and that’s not the case with the Metzler Tourance.

Brake caliper with new pads and new rotor


Before putting the wheel back on, I used a c clamp to move the brake piston back to make room for the new pads and disk. I had to loosen the bleeder valve before it would move. The bleeder valve is the thing with the rubber boot on it near the top left of the photo above. Take the boot off and open it a quarter turn. You should slip a hose over the end to let the brake fluid flow into a container instead of onto the swingarm, etc.

Supposedly, brake fluid will eat the paint off your bike. But I didn’t have a suitable bit of tubing handy, so I just washed it off afterwards. Of course, later, I came across just the right length and size of hose.

With the bleeder closed, I just slipped in the new pads and ran the retainer pin through them and put the spring clip back on. The copper colored parts are the new pads and you can see the retainer pin and spring clip above. With the pads in the caliper, I could slide the new disk in between them as the wheel went on. I had the chain looped over the swing-arm out of the way and after the wheel was more or less in place, there was just enough slack to slip the chain over the sprocket. It all takes a little finesse to make it happen.

By the way, I described the exact brake parts I bought in the previous post.


Wheel back on.

I decided to change the brake fluid. I started with the reservoir half full, opened the bleeder, depressed the pedal, closed the bleeder, let the pedal back up, and repeated until the reservoir was nearly empty. Added new fluid and repeated until the fluid coming out the bleeder looked clear. You can’t let the pedal up while the bleeder is open or it will suck air into the system.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but while the wheel was off I essentially swapped out the original links for lowering links. I had bought a used lowering kit for $150 on eBay which included the links, a shortened side stand and a shorter center stand.

I put on the new center stand and that works perfectly. The side stand was too short, so I put the original back on and it is just about right with the bike lowered. Before, it was too short IMO. I like the bike standing up and it’s now a little long but completely workable. Just be careful, as always, how I park it.


F650 back together and ready to roll. Winter muffs retired.

The seat is 2.5″ lower than the 32-inch original, and I am liking it so far. I didn’t touch the front end, so the steering is a little slower, which I like anyway. The wind coming over the windshield hits me in the middle of the helmet instead of the chin and throat, and a taller aftermarket screen might throw it entirely over my head.

EBC says I need to “bed” the pads and rotor by taking it easy on the brakes for awhile, while applying them often in varying conditions.

My rear brake repair is now complete and I got some other nice improvements while I was at it.

Rear Brakes: $200, Lowering Kit: $150, Rear Tire/Tube mounted and balanced: $230

BMW F650 Maintenance – Rear Brake

Made a trip to the grocery store the other day and I noticed my rear brake wasn’t really working. Front was okay. I don’t use the brakes much but when I do it’s usually the rear brake I go to when I need to slow the bike down a little.  So even without the vehicle inspection issue, I have become quite fond of having a rear brake and I’m sufficiently motivated to fix it.

I’m a shade tree mechanic until I can get my bike shed built, hopefully later this year. That’s right, heartland New Hampshire tactics. At least it’s not a BLUE tarp.


I’m getting a new tire and also lowering the bike and I have it up on the center stand and covered with a tarp in case of rain. I took the rear wheel out first and cleaned it up. I hope to take it to the BMW dealer and have them put a new tire on it, balance it, and check out the spokes and wheel run-out.  I mounted the last tire myself, but thought I would let BMW do this one. I’ll get the wheel to the dealership and wait for it. That’s the plan. I want another Metzler Tourance tire. I put 15K miles on the last one.

Got the tire out by removing the mudguard, taping up the rear brake lever, loosening the chain tensioners, loosening the shaft, blocking under the wheel so it wouldn’t fall, slipping the shaft out, pushing the wheel forward and working the chain off the rear sprocket, and rolling the wheel straight back and letting the brake disk come out from between the pads.

Separated the sprocket and cush drive from the rest of the wheel. You have to be careful of the brake disk, although it would take a fair amount or force to bend it.

I look at the Clymer manual occasionally to make sure I’m not getting way off course. I’ve had it all apart more than once before.

With the wheel out I could see the inside pad looked pretty thin and I would likely have to replace the pads. With the wheel out, the brake caliper tends to fall off the bike, so I reinserted the shaft and clamped the caliper onto the swing arm so I could tap out the keeper pin after removing the spring clip retainer.


The left end of the keeper pin has a hole for the spring clip retainer.

As you can see, the pin is fairly corroded and I should replace it, but I’m not going to. For one thing, even if the pin is corroded, you can still tap it out easily because it is the brass springy collar that is holding it it. Once you tap the pin about 1/8th inch towards the wheel, it just comes out easily the rest of the way. Also, the corrosion is superficial and it’s just a keeper pin to keep the brake pads from falling off the bike. The braking forces don’t go through the pin. Also, it’s easy enough to replace later when it’s convenient to pick up a new one.

With the pin out, the pads come right out. As suspected the inside pad was worn down to the minimum thickness, .060″, about 1/16th inch. (1.5 mm). I measured it with a dial caliper. I got .130″ for the metal part and .190″ overall.


The way the light is hitting the photo of the pad, the striations seem pronounced but the disk itself still seems reasonably smooth to me. I checked the disk thickness with a micrometer and got .180″ where the pads contact it. You can’t use the vernier because the outer edge of the disk is unworn and the straight caliper jaws would simply give you a reading of the unworn part. The outer edge was about .200″, which is the thickness of a new one.

Whoa!  I checked the BMW spec and it says .180″ is the minimum thickness! Looks like I need a new disk (rotor).

I poked around the internet and decided the pads I want are these:

EBC Brake ads

They are on order. Two days, prime. Tough to beat. $36.21

Here’s what I bought for a rear rotor replacement. $148.28.  Prime shipping also. I got the MD651 part number off the EBC web site.

EBC Rotor

In the center of the caliper is the cylinder (piston) that pushes on the outer pad. The inner pad just rests against the stationary inner (wheel-side) wall of the caliper. The piston is the thing about 1.5″ in diameter.


As the pads wear, that cylinder moves more to the right and the level of fluid in the reservoir will drop a corresponding amount. When I install the new pads, I’ll have to force that cylinder to the left to make room and that will raise the reservoir level. Mine is about half full, so there should be enough room for it to back up in there. Brake fluid can damage your paint, so you don’t want it overflowing.

I think the master cylinder and caliper are fine because I don’t have any fluid leaking anywhere.

After I get it back together, I’m going to replace the brake fluid, but I’ll leave that to another post.


Piaggio Liberty 150

What good is a scooter?

In Europe, the 125cc Piaggio Liberty is a workhorse, delivering everything from pizza to the mail. And it’s a reliable a commuter. A 150cc version has just now become available in the USA.


If you are looking for something light for the street, the Liberty only weighs 255 lbs. without fuel. But the lighter the bike the smaller the engine. Why? I don’t know exactly but it probably has something to do with staying alive. You only get 150 cc’s.

You can have a 150 cc motorcycle,  but a small engine requires a lot of shifting to keep the rpms in the maximum power range. A scooter has a simple automatic transmission and is more or less always in the right gear. No shifting required.

The Liberty engine is the same air cooled, fuel injected, three valve unit used in the much more expensive Vespa. 77 mpg, actual, reported on fuelly.com

The big wheels, 16 inch front and 14 rear, help on rough roads and produce handling more like a motorcycle than a small-wheeled scooter.


There’s a big glove box up front and good storage under the seat. You can get by without a top box, at least around town. The seat is 31 inches off the ground and pretty narrow in the front, making it easy to put your feet down. No side-stand, but the center stand is easy to operate.

You only get a top speed of 60 mph, and 45-50 is probably more in the comfort range, so you are talking minimalist transportation. Keeping up with traffic is a matter of either picking your roads or occasionally moving over to let cars go by.

Think of it this way, the Liberty is out of the box faster than any hot-rodded 50-60 cc Honda Ruckus, and I would love to go around Lake Winnipesaukee on a Ruckus. I like minimalist thinking, but I don’t want to get run over either. With 13 horsepower, the Liberty has just enough to stay out of trouble.

You can buy a Piaggio Liberty 150 at Herb Chambers Vespa in Boston for about $3600, out the door.

Am I going to buy one?

Very tempting. This is one of the very few practical scooters that look good to me and I am a big fan of things that look good. But I would want to keep my ’97 BMW F650 and I know my wife will say “you don’t have room for it” and be right.

In fact, she did say it.

How did this post turn into thoughts on shed building?



Mid Winter Ride

“Last warm day for a while. Good day for a bike ride,” says my wife, a bonafide connoisseur of weather forecasts. She was raised on a farm with real animals and crops and stuff. The BMW F650 is the closest thing to a tractor we have. So I translate, “Get out on the tractor and do something.”

Could this be a day to go around Lake Winnipesaukee? 65 miles. You betcha. I check the temperature. 40 degrees. No sun. It’s as good as it’s going to get. At noon, the temp is going to start dropping.

First things first, I install my Iron Butt credentials on the bike.


Now I’m ready. I head out on 11A towards Alton Bay and immediately get buffeted by ubiquitous frost heaves. I imagine these conditions all the way around the lake and remember smoother days last summer. I keep going.


Bob Houses on Alton Bay

The frost heaves aren’t that bad everywhere. Before I know it, I’m closing in on Wolfeboro.


Bob houses on Tuftonboro Bay

Riding up north of Wolfeboro, I realize I’m enjoying navigating my way along these bumpy roads. I slow down, stay in third gear more. After all,  I’m on an adventure bike. Good in adverse conditions. There is something satisfying about handling the obstacles.

Bumps, wet areas, patches of sand, clumps of salt, snowmobiles. A car turning and then not turning. An entertaining amount of uncertainty.

A big truck coming the other way salutes with a mighty horn blast!


The Mount Washington cruise ship in winter quarters.

On a previous ride at 45 degrees, my core had become chilled by the time I got to Center Harbor. This time, I had the Gerbing vest and at the Moultonboro Airport, about halfway, I switched it on to 25%. Hadn’t felt any chill until then. With the heat on the second half, I was comfortable all the way around.

IMG_1727 (1)

Bob Houses way out on Center Harbor Bay

Being out here in the winter, a bit cold and damp, I remember gassing up the F650 down on the Merritt Parkway on my Iron Butt run last October. A guy walks over and says, “I was following you. Before I could see what you were riding, I told my wife only BMW riders are out in the cold rain. Sure enough.” He said he owned a BMW F800.


The winter community on Meredith Bay


Let’s Dance!

Iron Butt Association

Who would want to become a member of something called the Iron Butt Association? Especially if you have to ride 1000 documented miles in under 24 hours to qualify for membership.

Well, I submitted my application about three months ago. They said it might take three months to process it. Sure enough. A nice package just came in the mail. I got a backing panel for my license plate, an official certificate, a record of finishers with my name at the top of the list, several decals and patches, a membership number and password, and a nice letter from president Michael Kneebone himself.


On the same day that I rode the BMW F650, 10/15/17, a guy named Andrii Korpusov from Lutsk, Ukraine rode a BMW R1100RT 1008 validated miles to gain membership.

The finishers almost exclusively rode big displacement motorcycles, Harley Davidson Road Kings, Goldwings, big BMW touring machines, Yamaha FJRs, Kawasaki Concours, etc. But a guy named Anastasiya Vinogradskaya from Moskow, Russia finished on a Yamaha 125 on 8/03/17. I was surprised that there weren’t more small displacement rides.

I enjoyed the challenge. It was fun. I was very careful and took most of the 24 hours to complete it. On longer rides, though, I don’t want to be limited by a tight schedule on a relatively naked, lightweight bike. The more epic Iron Butt runs (coast to coast, for example) may best be left to those with a 1200cc engine and a big fairing.

Instead, I think I would enjoy some simple, aimless wandering on the F650 when it gets warmer. But every time I get on the bike, I’ll see that Iron Butt plate holder and think about US Route 1 from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida, or Key West to Prudhoe Bay, or Lubec, Maine to Homer Alaska, or even Alaska to Terra del Fuego like Lois on the Loose.