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Bike Myths


The grain of truth here is that if the piston rings are never seated against the cylinder walls by
proper break-in, they won't seal and the engine will never develop full power. On the other hand,
how fast should break-in be? Do you take out your new. zero-miles bike up the interstate? No. A
normal break-in, as described in the maker's manual, and performed with understanding, is all that's
needed.No matter how fine the surfaces produced in manufacturing on cylinder walls and
crankpins, they are like the Alps in comparison with the much finer profiles that proper break-in
will create. Break-in is the final machining operation. The oil films that will support moving parts in
operation may be as thin as 1.5 microns (.00006 inch), so to avoid piercing these' films, the Alps of
manufacturing must be scrubbed down to even lower height by the process we call break-in.A
normal break-in calls for a period (usually 500 to 1000 miles) of controlled operation in which the
engine is never steadily, heavily loaded. You would not, for example, climb long hills on full
throttle and low rpm. The idea of break-in is to impose short periods of various loads, separated by
recovery periods. While the Alps are at work, knocking each other down, wear particles and heat
are produced. The recovery periods allow the heat to dissipate, and allow the particles to flush out
from between surfaces and be swept away to the oil filter. Once break-in is complete, engine oil and
filter are changed. That's it.


This one is history. Remember the guys with all the scoops and ducts, the black paint, and the extra,
welded-on fins? Back when most engines were air-cooled, there wasn't enough cooling to allow
continuous full-power operation without burningup, so savvy tuners over jetted,_ using the extra
fuel's heat of evaporation as an internal engine coolant, and to limit combustion flame temperature.
Jetting to the chemically correct mixture (at which every molecule of oxygen in the air charge i1-
reacted with hydrogen or carbon from the fuel, leaving no extra fuel unburned) gives maximum
power and maximum heat release, hut on that jetting, poorly cooled engines would run hard for a
couple of laps, then cook. That heat would cause the intake air to expand and lose density, thereby
causing power to fall off. Over jetting, by limiting this heat, allowed engines to lose less power.
This is why. even today, air-cooled 500 MX engines sound so rough; they are over jetted to the
point of misfiring when cold-so they'll keep more of their power when they're hot. More cooling
would help these engines.Modern liquid-cooled engines can be overcooled to the point where they
lose power-simply because too much heat is being absorbed by cool metal surfaces in the
combustion chamber, leaving too little heat in the combustion gases to generate pressure to act on
the piston. Tuners learn by experiment what coolant temperature gives best performance. This is
why you'll often see race bikes with their radiators partially taped-over when going out for practice
on a cold morning. Conversely, you'll also notice that Yoshimura has decided its Suzuki 750
Superbikes need more cooling than they have, and have provided two extra oil radiators.


The fragment of truth here is that the rpm of the torque and horsepower peaks is usually higher than
it's appropriate to use in most street or highway situations; you use less power than you have. Yes, a
racer keeps his tach in the region of peak torque and horsepower to get the most from his engine.
But some street riders (and even a few racers) assume that if a little is good, too much ought to be
just enough. You hear them winding their poor, suffering engines far into the red zone, above the
torque and horsepower peaks, above the good performance-just to hear the noise. And they are
going slower than the rider who knows where the peaks are.To make power at higher rpm, the
engine must be given the ability to breathe up there-with longer cam timings, refined porting,
perhaps bigger carbs, and suitable exhaust system.


It's true that racing engines often have larger clearances than street engines, but it's wrong to jump
to the conclusion that this is done to cut friction,A racing engine is on full throttle more than a street
engine, so its piston temperature is higher and its pistons expand more. Therefore they need some
extra clearance- Street engines must be quiet, which calls for low-expansion cast pistons run at
close clearance. The extra stress put to a race motor often calls for the extra strength of forged
pistons, but forging alloys expand more with heat than do casting alloys, and so require more
clearance. At operating temperature, racing pistons fit as closely as street pistons: they must in order
to present their rings squarely and stably to the cylinder walls. A loose, rattling fit is an invitation to
loss of ring seal. Also, pistons are cooled by close contact with the cylinder walls; a loose fit means
hotter-running pistons.


This one derives partly from Number 6 above, and partly from the different riding qualities of
different engines. A big single seems to have impressive torque when you ride it, but on the dyno, a
twin or four of the same displacement almost always has as much or more. It's just that a big single
feels so torquey. The feeling comes from the flywheel mass, and from the ability of a slow-turning
engine to produce thrust without rpm. A single needs big flywheels to idle, and in rough going,
those heavy flywheels may carry it through where a twin or four might bog. A single usually has
moderate to small valve sizes, so its torque is given at low rpm. That being so, it also usually has
very conservative cam timings-timings that give full torque at some wonderfully low, putt-putt
speed like 3500 rpm. On a four, snapping open the grip at 3500 produces nothing but a cloud of fuel
fog from the carbs and a sickly drone from the exhaust.Sensibly designed engines take advantage of
their natural strong points. A multicylinder engine has a lot of potential valve area, and so is usually
designed in such a way that its torque and power are given at higher rpm. A single, with far less
cylinder-head real estate in which to set valves, is therefore (usually, but not always) designed to
deliver its torque at the low speeds that small valves favor.



It's true that during acceleration, extra power is consumed in speeding up moving parts. Between
two otherwise identical bikes, the one with light flywheels will usually have some edge in
acceleration, but not in top speed This process can be taken too far. When Honda raced its RC166
six-cylinder 250 back in the mid-1960s,and again when it tried to race its NR500 oval-piston four-
stroke in the early 1980s, crank mass was reduced practically to nothing. The result? These engines
were tricky to ride because they could Stall between downshifts, or indeed any time the clutch was
pulled.Recently some enterprising engine fanatics decided to build a V-twin out of car-engine
components, but they left out the flywheel. Result? Their engine had such violent variations in
crank speed-owing to lack of rotating inertia to smooth it out-that it often stalled on the dyno, or
tossed its valves. Although it had a potential for nearly 100 horsepower, it developed only a third of
that in tests.Any piston engine needs a flywheel capable of storing enough energy at idle speed to
compress the charge on the next cycle without stalling. If you plan to run at higher rpm, you can get
away with less flywheel, because energy storage in a flywheel increases with rpm. But you can go
too far-as Honda once did.


Internal combustion engines have a mechanical efficiency of 75 to 85 percent. This means that 15 to
25 percent of the power delivered against the pistons by combustion pressure is wasted as internal
friction. Engines last a long time before they are worn out, so it's clear that most of the time,
moving parts don't touch each other in metal-to-metal fashion, but are separated by a more or less
complete oil film. This being so, most of that 15 to 25 percent friction loss occurs in the oil films
supporting the parts-between pistons and cylinders, between shafts and bearings, etc. If oil viscosity
is reduced a lot to cut this loss, the oil films fail and scuffing occurs.Therefore, what do the makers
of mystery coatings and lubes expect us to believe? Oil viscosity-the source of most engine friction-
is what makes lubrication work. Without viscosity (and the friction that goes with it) seizure would
be instant. This simple fact rules out the most extreme coating and additive claims-the ones that say
things like, "Boosts engine power by 15 percent!"Some small part of total friction is caused by
actual surface-to-surface contact at areas of peak pressure, such as cam nose-to-tappet, or between
piston rings and cylinder wall near TDC where piston velocity is near zero and combustion gas
pressure is maximum. In these areas, surface-to-surface contact occurs but, because wear is very
slow, it is clearly quite minimal.All right, then. Shift our attention to surface-to-surface contact-that
small fraction of total engine friction. Here, surface coatings can work. That is why they are
included in the additive packages of nearly all engine oils-in the form of metallic compounds that
adhere to metal surfaces. When surface contact occurs, it is this metallic compound that scuffs and
shears-not the parent metal under it. The coating heals itself, but the oil additive is eventually used
up and must be replaced.What are we left with? Coatings are unlikely to provide measurable power
gains. Honda, in recent research with very carefully applied (no spray cans!) coatings of tried-and-
true solid lubricants, found power gains, if any, must be less than one half of one per cent.Where is
the value, if any? If there is a value, it would have to be during break-in, when local pressures and
temperatures are very high, and surface-to-surface contact is frequent. If parts break-in to smooth,
polished surfaces, they will be able to carry heavier loads later on, and certain coatings may help in
this. If you feel like making an experiment out of your brand-new engine, then go for it- but only
after a careful reading of the terms of your warranty.


Time and again you will hear this-that parts moving back and forth consume power. It's true that the
crankshaft has to accelerate the piston from a dead stop at top and bottom center, up to peak piston
speed at midstroke, but the crankshaft gets that power back in the act of slowing the piston back
down again. Energy is neither created nor destroyed-it is simply exchanged between the crank and
piston. In this case, the crank slows slightly as it accelerates a piston (or valve, etc.) up to maximum
speed, and it speeds up again slightly as it gets the energy back again at the other end of the stroke.
Of course, the weight of the moving parts creates inertial resistance to these accelerations and
decelerations. A half-pound piston, accelerating at 3000 Gs, imposes a load of 1500 pounds on the
wristpin, rod, and main bearings, and that in turn slightly increases the frictional drag on the engine.
Most of an engine's friction drag occurs between piston, rings, and cylinder. The rest-some 10 to 15
percent-occurs in the rotating bearings on crank, rods, and valve drive. Since only about 15 percent
of the engine's power is eaten up by all sources of friction, and only 10 to 15 percent of that is
bearing friction, we have perhaps 15 percent of 15 percent equals 2 percent of engine power
consumed in the crank bearings. If we cut piston and con-rod weight by 10 percent (not so easy to
do) we may gain 10 percent of 2 percent, or one-fifth of one percent-too small to worry about.Then
why do designers and tuners work hard to cut reciprocating parts weight? Bearings last longer under
lighter loads, or can be resized smaller for slight economy gains. Con-rod bearings are among the
hardest-worked parts in an engine, so lighter pistons and con rods mean longer rod-bearing life. In
the valve train, lighter parts will continue to follow the cam profile up to higher rpm than will
heavier ones. Light valves, rockers, pushrods, or tappets are created to prevent valve float-not to
reduce friction. Finally, fast-moving parts in the enginestore energy, just as a flywheel does. When
the engine accelerates, it takes some power to increase the average velocity of con rods and pistons.
The less those parts weigh, the less power is consumed in speeding them up.



First, there's the element of wishful thinking. For the people who prefer Uri Geller to the insights of
thermodynamics, it's always entertaining to believe that some backyard inventor has created
perpetual motion. And, after all the other mischief that the Bad Guys have fomented, it's easy to
believe They have put the lid on this miracle carburetor.However, the truth is mundane. A carburetor
sprays a fog of droplets of various sizes into the intake. The smaller ones manage to vaporize before
compression and ignition, but some percentage of bigger drops are still little liquid worlds when
combustion starts, and remain that way, evaporating furiously, all through the cycle, finally being
ejected, blackened and only partly burned, out the exhaust. Also, gasoline is a mixture of chemical
species, some of which are not very volatile- especially nowadays. The volatile fraction evaporates
easily, but the heavy stuff can separate out as it whizzes through the manifold, remaining liquid.
This heavy stuff and the big droplets are therefore at least partly wasted. In an old, inefficient
machine, in need of a tune-up, this fuel might be as much as 15 to 20 percent of the total burned.
Anyone who has worked around laboratory research engines has seen the evaporator carburetors
normally used on them; they are heated by steam to ensure that no part of the fuel remains
unvaporized. This type of carb is used because it eliminates the unwanted variable of fuel
vaporization.The secret, mileage-increasing carburetors operate in exactly the same way- by heating
the intake charge to obtain full vaporization. However, most auto engines already heat their intake
manifolds to some degree with radiator water and exhaust-gas heat-to obtain good drivability during
warm-up. Some new bikes and snowmobiles now have carbs heated by engine cooling water, to
ensure fuel vaporization. Heating the intake air more than this may indeed result in a small gain in
mileage-but it is in direct proportion to how many of those oversized fuel droplets your carburetors
are putting out. Heating the intake air a lot-to the point of complete fuel vaporization-also expands
the intake air enough to considerably reduce power. When Mystery Carb Corp. publishes mileage
gains, it is always on big, old, unsophisticated V8 engines- never on modern, fuel-injected
equipment. Those older engines, with blob-spray carburetors whose jets and metering rods are worn
to a huge oversize, may indeed give much better mileage with a Mystery Carb.Will Mystery Carb
double your mileage? (Will my mileage quadruple if I use two Mystery Carbs?) No, sadly, it can't.



At one time, plain bearings had not yet been developed to their present excellence, and building a
race engine with them was an invitation to bearing troubles. Mercedes-Benz designed all its racing
engines in the thirties and fifties with complex, extremely expensive built-up Hirth cranks-all so
they could use reliable, proven rolling-element bearings on mains and rods. Plain bearings were
something cheap for economy designs- but, not suitable for high performance. People who grew up
reading about all this came to believe that ball and roller bearings are the only thing for high speed.
Rollers are "cool." I believed it for years.Meanwhile, automotive shell-type plain bearings were
rapidly being developed to high reliability and, indeed, had long existed in aircraft engines in a form
able to carry extreme loads. Once such bearings could be mass-produced, and the technology for
designing with them was understood, rolling bearings and the complexities they involved were
quietly put in the attic. At high speeds and loads, there is little advantage to rolling bearings over
plain ones in terms of friction loss, and plain bearings are actually capable of carrying heavier loads
and greater misalignments. The one-piece cranks used with plain bearings are far, far stronger and
more reliable than are the multi piece type used with rollers.You may now ask, "Then why are auto
makers turning back to roller cams, and why are they again investigating rolling bearings for cranks
and rods?" Their reasons lie in fuel economy, and in the way cars are used. Cars spend most of their
time at very small throttle openings, often running only partly warmed-up in commuter service.
Under these conditions, rolling-element bearings have an advantage in lower friction.


Compression ratio is a major variable in making power. The higher the ratio, the further you are
expanding the burned gases, and the greater the energy you are extracting from them. Unfortunately,
there are limits to this process:(a) As you go higher, the gains diminish. It's a bigger step from a 3:1
ratio to a 4:1, than from 12:1 up to 13:1.(b) Raising compression makes your fuel more likely to
knock, rather than burn normally. Heavy knock destroys engines, and must be avoided.(c) When
you raise compression, you make the combustion space smaller. To

be efficient, combustion must be rapid, so designers try to create rapid motion in the air/fuel charge
by cleverly directing the intake streams, using squish bands, and so on. Very high compression
leaves little room for air motion, so it can actually slow combustion down. As compression rises
above 12.5:1 in four-valve engines, there is usually not enough time for a complete burn at high
rpm. This means that high compression-really high, like 14:1-only produces a gain at lower and
middle rpm. This is precisely why drag racers use these high ratios-because they need to make their
engines "turn the tire" off the start line.When these extreme ratios are used in road racing, the
engine has good punch down low, and fades out higher up. This is why they use lower ratios than
do dragsters.The rule of thumb about compression? There is no easy rule. Different engines need
different ratios in different applications. More is not always better. Experimentation is the only final
answer. In general, the smaller the bore, the more tolerant the engine will be of compression-
because the flame-travel distance is smaller and combustion is faster. Long-stroke engines, because
they have more room above their pistons at a given compression ratio, tend to have more efficient
combustion. In general, the higher the rpm, the less likely detonation becomes- because there is less
time in which the conditions necessary for detonation can develop-and the higher the C.R. that can
safely be used.


The intent of this idea is correct. If you want more power, you'll have to flow more air/fuel mixture,
and that may mean that ports and valves will have to be increased in flow capacity. But is that the
same thing as "hogging 'em out"? It is not!First of all, it is not airflow alone that fills engine
cylinders; there must be velocity as well. This is because a fast-moving intake stream can continue
to "coast" into the cylinder long after bottom center-giving a slight, free supercharge. This is the
ram effect. Pushing velocity too high with tiny ports runs into losses from air friction. Making
velocity too low by making the ports too big just kills the ram effect and loses power.Second, many
engine designs today already have port sizes that are too big for best power. Making them bigger
yet- even with the careful use of an airflow bench-may just kill your midrange without boosting the
top end much.Finally, those who jab a die-grinder into a port intending to make it "real big" will
likely offend the Gods of Airflow, doing more harm than good. Many are those who, blowing up
their "good" ported head, were forced to fall back on a stock spare, and then went faster.


As in so many other myths, this one dates to the air-cooled days-in particular to when iron Harley
race motors ran with 900-degree cylinder head temperature.Oil's primary job in the engine is to
keep the moving parts from touching each other. It does this by virtue of its viscosity-its fluid
friction. Oil is made viscous enough that it will not be squeezed from between the parts even under
the highest loads. Any more viscosity than this simply adds drag to the engine.Oil viscosity falls
with increasing temperature. Therefore, engines with ineffective cooling systems thin their oil out
badly. To prevent this viscosity loss from reaching the point where moving parts break through the
thinned oil film and seize, the engine is given more viscous oil to begin with-maybe even that SOW
"gear grease" I just mentioned above. Those hot-running iron Harleys had to start with extra-heavy
oil so that, at operating temperature, they would get the same bearing and piston protection that
other, cooler-running engines can get from straight 30 oil. Therefore, unless your engine runs as
stove-hot as those old-timers did, putting extra-heavy oil into it buys you nothing but extra internal
friction-from shearing all that resisting viscosity.


I grew up near an airbase where I was always hearing about the guy who bribed the sergeant to
pump him some aviation gas. On that sweet-smelling stuff his car or bike ran great-no knock, and
pulled up hills without overheating. The sergeant tells him he can get him jet fuel, too. Assuming
that since jet engines are more modern and powerful than piston engines, their fuel must also be
something extra-special, our man does the deal. He wonders a little, as he pours the stuff in on top
of the av-gas already in his tank, why it smells so much like kerosene. Without knowing it, he has
changed the antiknock rating of his fuel from 100-plus, down to somewhere south of 50. Off he
goes, his engine now knocking like an old taxi. After a few miles of sustained, heavy detonation, his
engine is reduced to smoking junk. Man, that jet fuel is hot stuff- ran so good, burnt my motor right
out.In fact, aviation gasoline of the blue, green, or purple persuasions is excellent stuff in terms of
anti-knock properties, and is used as the basis for many racing gasolines. Aviation gas contains
essentially the same energy per pound as does street gas, and won't make more power than street
gas unless you increase compression ratio to take advantage of its superior knock resistance. Its big
drawback in non-aviation engines is its low volatility, which may keep it from vaporizing to form a
good mixture in an unheated intake system. Turbine (jet) fuel is in fact severely pro-knock, and is
similar to kerosene. Turbines don't need anti-knock fuel; piston engines most certainly do.People
who say this don't understand that there is a chemically correct mixture, and that power drops if you
go either richer or leaner than this mixture. Yet there is a reason why so many have believed it; back
in the air-cooled days, engines needed extra richness for internal cooling, because air-over-fins was
so ineffective in getting rid of heat. Therefore, with those engines, you enriched the mixture almost
to the misfire point, and ran that. The extra fuel prevented the engine from heating up as much as it
otherwise would have, and it made more power in a long event. Now, with the coming of liquid
cooling, this extra richness is no longer necessary, and tuners jet as close as they can to the
chemically correct mixture. That's where the power is, if you can get rid of the heat.

Spark lead (how far in degrees before top center the ignition spark occurs) is another of the
variables that can lead to detonation. The more lead you crank in, the longer you are holding hot
burning mixture at high pressure, and the likelier it is to knock. On the other hand, you'd like to
have combustion reach peak pressure at the optimum time so that maximum power is given to the
piston. The trouble comes when the best tuning for performance is too advanced for the fuel. As you
dial in more lead, and the power is coming up nicely, you run into knock.In drag racing, where the
engine runs for only a few seconds, the combustion chamber is relatively cool off the line. A drag
racer can run a lot of lead and get away with it for this reason. He may need it, too, for at the
compression ratios drag racers use, combustion chambers are tight and slow-burning. Extra
compression and spark lead work for them because they don't run long enough for the excess to
cause trouble.Cranking in more lead remains popular on the street because people figure that if it
works at the strip, it has to be the hot ticket down the avenue. Yet time and again these timing
advances are dyno-tested on stock engines and fail to show any gain. Why are they made? For drag
engines with high compression and combustion chambers so tight that flame speed is slowed down
in making its way around all the valve cutouts and bumps and lumps, it's useful. In a street bike,
with its much more open chamber, extra advance is just not necessary or desirable.According to
legend. Old Man Yoshimura used to crank in about 45 degrees on his air-cooled, 1025cc Superbikes
and literally go for broke. After a few laps of torrid,.glorious action up front, the engine would fry.
Later, like everyone else, he learned to make faster-burning combustion chambers with lower
compression ratios that would go fast all day on 10 or 15 degrees less lead. In fact, among
experienced tuners, being able to run a very minimum of spark lead is regarded as a sign of an
efficient combustion chamber. A two-valve engine running 30 to 32 degrees would be regarded as
efficient, as would a four-valve burning in fewer than 30 degrees.


It's true that it's hard for a good small engine to beat a good big engine, other things being equal. On
the other hand, the limit of power is set by how fast you can turn the engine and still fill and empty
its cylinders. Cylinder filling is limited by valve and port sizes, so a 10 percent displacement
increase usually doesn't bring a 10 percent power increase; valves that were the right size for the
smaller engine are too small for the big one. The result is that the oversized engine now gives peak
torque at lower speed than did the original. The torque is increased because combustion pressure is
now pressing down on bigger pistons. Horsepower may have increased, but not very much; with
torquebeing up, and rpm being down, these tv factors cancel somewhat. Often, oversized motors are
pleasant to ride because of their generous torque, and because they need not be buzzed to get thrust.


The lure of the exotic is felt by us all, bi some few have to try silly stuff like cold heat-range racing
plugs in street engine-or big jets without the other changes the make them necessary in modified
engines. Street bikes use warm heat-rang plugs to prevent fouling at the moderate engine heat loads
they produce. Race engines push much more heat through their components, and spark plugs must
be of cooler-running design to avoid having; overheated electrodes act as glowing, sources of
premature ignition. Putting; cold racing plugs in a street engine is an invitation to fouling. How
many times have I heard, at shops, a customer asking the mechanic to "Throw in a set of racin' jets."
Modified engines, with longer cam timings an< free-flow exhaust systems, often need jet ting up to
compensate for a sluggish in take process at low rpm. Some persons knowing only that large jets are
somehow associated with powerful motors, want t( screw big holes into their stockers. The result is
blubbery throttle response, black plugs, and reduced power at all speeds. All this is not to say that
no street bike; ever need rejetting. In these times o EPA-mandated carburetion, street bike; often
come with fairly severe lean spots and to correct this, jet-and-needle kits an offered by the
aftermarket. Sometime' these kits work well, but their good performance is the result of repeated
dyne and road tests. You can't get there b) simply making everything richer. It would be very nice if
swagger and dash could be substituted for all this fuss) testing and fiddling. (Throw in a set o them
racin' jets! Crank in more lead!) Unfortunately, our swaggering makes little impression on reality.
For the swagger-and-dash people I can only recommend harmless modifications-like generic racing
team T-shirts, jackets, hats, and stickers. They go well with myth.