Monday, June 28, 2010

A missing part causes a Wrench-Intensive weekend.

Recently, in the hopes of finally getting past the heat-related "fails to start" engine issues on Natasha, my Ural Sidecar Rig, I'd bought a gently used Ducati Ignition system from a fellow member at

The price was less than 1/2 of the retail price for the latest ignition module type for Urals so how could I say no right?  The parts arrived promptly and on Thursday afternoon of last week, I dismantled the existing Type IV ignition module and took it off Natasha.  It was when I got stuck removing the mounting plate for the old system that I realized that I was missing a seal plate for the new Ducati system!  Doh.

You see, I'd been following the illustrated "how to" guide published by JohnBG of and neglected to notice that I was missing this part:

old seal plate on left, new one on right
 photo source: JohnBG's Ducati Ignition Install Guide

The function provided by the seal plate is to keep the oil from the engine from leaking out into the front cover area where the ignition's rotor and electric pickup is located:

Here's the front of the engine, the cam shaft's end poking through from inside the engine.

Here's the new seal plate which I was missing

I emailed the previous owner of the ignition kit and he promptly replied telling me he'd thought the piece was not Ducati-specific.  He also mailed it out to me the next day so I should have it by Tuesday of this week.

So Friday afternoon was spent removing the old mounting and seal plates from the front area of the engine.  Dang P.O.S. Russian pot metal flat tip screws proved stubbornly hard to remove without damaging them.  There were seven in all and all but one I managed to remove using penetrating oil and time.  The last one involved the removal of the front wheel and fender so I could line up an impact driver on it.  Three hits and it was loose!
Knowing the seal plate was not missing and on the way, I spent most of Saturday doing what I could with the ignition components I did have.  Here's a shot of Natasha with her fuel tank off so I could get at the mounting points for the new module and install all the associated wiring.

A bit messy in terms of wiring, grease and such under the tank, I know.  All that would be cleaned up and corrected over the course of the weekend.

A view of the front of the engine, plastic cover and old ignition pieces removed.  As you can see, the old alternator is still mounted, serving only as a 7 lb+ cover to keep engine oil inside the front engine area.

I spent some time cleaning up the areas exposed by the removal of the gas tank.  Did some rust removal and paint touch-up.  Cleaned up the wiring underneath, routing wires cleanly and installing the wiring for the Ducati ignition system at the same time.

Two holes needed to be drilled into the support frame welded onto the frame which the gas tank straddles when mounted.  This procedure went well, though I did introduce a slight nick in the speedometer cable's sheathing with the drill bit.  

Here's the Ducati coil, mounted securely onto the support frame above where the old ignition's plastic cover goes.  You can see part of the electric pickup that will "sense" the rotation of the new rotor/interruptor on the camshaft for ignition timing purposes.

The "brains" of the Ducati Ignition system, bolted onto the support frame under the motorcycle's seat.  Those exposed wires you see I ended up covering with some black duct tape to keep water out.

Once I'd gone as far as I could without the missing seal plate, there were two other tasks that came to mind that I'd been meaning to do.  Service the splines on the drive shaft and try removing the failed alternator and putting a metal cap in its place to keep the oil inside.

 A shot of twin rainbows visible from my driveway, this on the afternoon after the work above was done.
I am hoping it was a good omen for the work.

Sunday was spent doing the two tasks above.  Neither was a major ordeal, just time intensive, especially the removal of the final drive and the drive shaft from the rear of the gear box.  For this operation, I was following the excellently illustrated and annotate guide from Bill Glaser's site.

I was way too engaged by the procedure, not to mention having grease-coated hands, that I didn't shoot any pictures while I did the spline lube service.  Instead, here's pictures from Bill Glaser's site which show you a bit of what was involved.  

Here's a view of the drive shaft, it connects to a rubber donut behind the gearbox that acts as a shock absorber and coupling unit.  The splines to be lubed are visible on the left end of the shaft.
photo source: Bill Glaser

Here's a view of the final drive and one of the four bolts which affix it to the rear swingarm
photo source: Bill Glaser

Here, the final drive is unmounted from the swingarm and being moved to the left to uncouple it from the swingarm and the sidecar propeller shaft
photo source: Bill Glaser

The Final drive, ready to be cleaned up and serviced.  
Mine was much greasier and dirty than Bill's unit above!
photo source: Bill Glaser

My final drive had apparently never been serviced until that day.  The splines were bone dry, with some minor damage due to lack of grease, some light rust and some wear.  I believe it's still usable though.  Due to the lack of prior service, it took quite an effort for me to free it from the gearbox's coupling device.  The final drive unit is pretty heavy and unwieldy so picture me with it in my lap, my feet braced against the centerstand's legs and pulling backwards with all my strength!

I pulled so hard I ended up pulling the rubber donut/coupler off the rear of the gear box!  No big deal as it just gets pushed on, which I did using a large flat tip screwdriver as a lever.  Once I finally got the drive loose, I spent quite some time cleaning it up and servicing the splines.  I used Honda Moly 60 grease as it's got a good reputation among Beemer and Honda owners for such usage.

Along with some assistance from my loving wife, I got the final drive installed and it snicked into the coupler unit with nice and smooth due to the new grease I'd applied.  The hardest part of the install was aligning the yokes for the sidecar's propeller shaft!  I am quite certain the next time I go to pull off the final drive, that it'll come out quite easily!

Next task, the removal of the failed 35Amp Russian alternator, otherwise known among the Uralisti cognoscenti as the Russian Hand Grenade.  As I mentioned before, I'd been using it only as a cover to keep oil from splashing out from the front portion of the engine.  The idea was to take off it's 7lb+ worth of dead weight and replace it with a metal cover.

To that end, I ended using the "top hat" metal plate that came with an old Ural air box I'd obtained from another fellow owner.  A little drilling, a little filing and I got the existing holes on the plate to fit the mounting bolts that used to secure the failed alternator.  I used gasket making material to hopefully create an oil-tight/airtight seal on the opening.  If it doesn't work, you'll see the alternator placed back in on future pics!

Things look quite "roomy" here now with the failed alternator out of the picture!

I did some final cleanup, replaced the gas tank and hooked back up all the gas lines that go to it.  Now Natasha's ready for the Ducati-specific seal plate and installing the remaining components of the Ducati Ignition system should be a breeze.

 Update: Later on today.
The missing seal plate came in the afternoon mail!  I put it on with no issues, put some gas into Natasha's tank, and she fired right up!  I next hooked up my timing light, shone it into the opening and saw that the timing mark was almost dead center already.  A little fiddling with the rotor pickup and it was dead center.  I got her buttoned up, got geared up and went for a quick test ride.

She rode beautifully.  Engine was nice and smooth, well as smooth as a Ural can be anyway.    I'd adjusted the clutch before due to a piece of it breaking off at the handle but I think I'll get used to new "friction zone" soon enough.  I came home to put the front fender back on.  The elated feeling was only slightly dulled by seeing that my metal cover replacement for the alternator's mounting point had failed miserably though.  There was evidence of an oil leak down the right side of the engine.  Oh well.  (note, there's a minimum width requirement for whatever is used as a cover, otherwise you end up pulling out the mounting bolts!)

About an hour later, there was more gas spilled on the driveway as I had to remove the tank, remove the cover plate, put back the failed alternator and replace the gas tank.  I really have to get quick disconnects for that crossover tube between the two halves of the gas tank!  (Stupid design)

Another test ride, no oil leaks this time, I need to buy a new mounting bolt for the front fender but its fine now with a temporary replacement.  Natasha is back among the "living" and will be my ride to work tomorrow.


Richard Machida said...

Wow! Pretty ambitious work. The olive drab color of the alternator "port cover" seems appropriate. I'm guessing that the new ignition system separate the electronics from the engine heat to increase reliability. Is the new system more waterproof? (For stream crossings.)

Nice post.

Charlie6 said...

Thanks Richard for your comments. The port cover failed miserably so the failed alternator is back on serving as a cover. The Ducati part showed up in the mail and I put it on, no problem and she now runs great! I'll ride her to work tomorrow for a more full up ride and see if the new ignition system is better. The new system appears quite waterproof, now to find me a small river/creek to cross.

bobskoot said...


your modifications are too ambitious for me too. I suppose if I could look over your shoulder it would seem easy. I think it's just easier to purchase a converted Ural from you if I ever wanted one.

is there a particular reason for selecting the Ducati ignition. Why not a Honda ignition system ? It would seem better to get something more mainstream and more readily available.

Wet Coast Scootin

Charlie6 said...

Bobskoot, thanks for the visit and commentary. As to why Ducati vs Honda or other brand, the Ducati is the latest ignition designed specifically for use on the newer Urals. There's custom pieces ( I believe ) to make it play with Ural, I am sure its programmed for the Ural's performance range vice say a regular Ducati bike which is much faster.

Allen Madding said...

tickled to hear you found a reliable ignition system to replace the POS. Any luck finding someone elses alternator to replace the POS altenator?

This story reminds me a lot of the "upgrades" we did in racing. You would be suprised the cross of manufacturer components on race cars :)


Steve Williams said...

While I admire your skill, patience, and stubborness in your mechanical accomplishment with you Ural rig, I was squirming while reading your post. I just can't bring myself to do mechanical work anymore.

Charlie6 said...

Allen, thanks also to you for reading this stuff and commenting. As to a "reliable" alternator to the russian hand grendade....there's the Nippon Denso that comes with the newer rigs, a bit pricey at over $500.

$200 will get me a 14amp alternator that came with the older rigs, coupled with one deep cycle, I am told it would suffice for my long distance riding needs (still would probably require recharging at night) Then again,k 8 hrs on a Ural is a LONG day!

Charlie6 said...

Steve, hopefully you weren't squirming because the content was boring! : )

As to wrenching on the Ural, it's easier than on newer motorcycles...and mine is closer now in terms of reliability to that future trip to the Arctic circle by way of Alaska.

Steve Williams said...

Your post definitely was not boring. I just find mechanical adventures more nerve racking than riding in snow. And I can remember when there was nothing better than spending a weekend with wrenches and grease. Whatever happened?

Looking forward to reading about your Arctic Circle adventures!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Reading this post was the closest I ever want to come to enduring personal torture. You must really love that Ural (silly statement). I would have torched it, and the guy who sold it to me, months ago.

I do not share your passion for doing my own work, despite what you may have read about my garage. But you sure do like fiddling with it.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads