Saturday, November 27, 2010

36 days later, Natasha is back home!

A happy day for me today, as repairs on Natasha, my Ural Sidecar Rig were finally complete.

My loving wife drove me to Golden, CO where Linden Engineering is located and dropped me off.

Natasha was waiting for me to take her out for a test ride, which I did after a lengthy conversation with both Dennis and Linda, the husband and wife team who run Linden Engineering.  There is no such thing as a short conversation with either one as they are quite gregarious and yet very pleasant to converse with.

Took Natasha out for a test ride after Dennis fired up the engine to show how smooth she was "ticking over".  First thing I noticed was the whine of the alternator which is now repaired and providing power once more to the rig.  Yes, I've gone back to the Russian Hand Grenade alternator, we'll see how long this one lasts.  I've had many conversations with Ural mechanics and they've persuaded me to try it again.  The key apparently is aligning the alternator's gear correctly with the timing gear.  Not too tight (and quiet) and not too loose (and noisy).

The test ride went great, no issues and the rear brakes really work well now that Dennis replaced the shoes for the rear drum brakes and adjusted them.  Her idle is at a low 700 rpm but Dennis assured me she was fine at that and to ride her for a bit that way.

More conversations later with Linda while she made out the invoice, another talk with Dennis about keeping an eye out on the swingarm which he thinks is a bit out of true and placing some stress on the final drive and rear wheel assembly.  He'd been unable to pinpoint it and my eagerness to get her back precluded more time in his hands.

Yes, it had been a long time without my Ural but it all seemed worth it as she pulled strongly through the gears as I headed away from Linden Engineering, through Golden and up the road to Lookout Mountain to give her a little workout and shakedown.

 Here's Natasha on the way up Lookout Mountain with Golden CO
and points south in the background

A panoramic view of the same location, to give you a better view of the curvy road up the mountain

She did fine running all the way up to the top of Lookout Mountain and back down again towards US40.  I took US40 east back towards town and ended up taking the side road down to the town of Morrison.  I was trying to get used to the additional engine noise caused by the alternator, she's definitely a bit noisier now but I  can live with the noise now that battery range is not an issue.

As you can see from the pictures, we had ourselves a beautifully sunny day with temperatures in the 50s.  This brought out many other motorcycle riders as they too enjoyed the weather.

I took city streets back home from Morrison, Natasha still performing great and me getting used to riding on three wheels again.  It felt quite good to "lean out" on the sharper right hand turns while going at speed, I'd missed that.

I got her home, cleaned her up from all the oil that had spewed out when she broke last month, put the leg guards back on to cut down the updraft when going faster than 50 mph, removed the second deep cycle battery (thereby regaining valuable trunk space in the sidecar), and generally got her settled into the garage.

The girls are back together

So, how would I rate Linden Engineering?  I'll put it this way.  They've always given me the impression of being a one man shop with all the pluses and minuses that go with that.  So, why did it take so long to get Natasha fixed up?

Lack of repair parts for one, apparently the rocker arms have been redesigned for the newer models and are not backwards compatible.  After the initial orders had resulted in the wrong parts being sent out from Ural, Dennis found that the factory had recalled the ones I needed but failed to supply replacements to the dealer network.  Dennis basically had to hunt them down by calling the suppliers/dealers he knew, finding one rocker arm in Florida and the other in Tennessee!  The Ural parts and supply network is apparently pathetic, though apparently some guy has been hired by Ural to fix that, I wish him luck.

Second, Dennis lost the use of his "motorcycle guy" at about the same time that all required parts finally arrived at the shop.  This was about two weeks after I'd left Natasha at the shop; and this left him a man short and the workload is such apparently that Natasha was untouched for over a week.

Third, Dennis had to try and cover for the missing tech and shortly after that the temporary loss of another of his mechanics which added to his own workload.  At this point, he was two mechanics down, so really it was only the last couple of days (not counting Thanksgiving Day) when Dennis himself had time to work on my Ural.

Dennis is definitely a top rate mechanic with many years experience.  If you take your Ural to him, be prepared for it to take a while if parts have to be ordered.  If he's short staffed, it'll take longer obviously.  If its something minor, and he's got the parts, it really shouldn't take very long at all if he's got the time.  Heck, you might get fixed that same day.  

There is no dedicated parts department, that would be Dennis.  The parts delays due to availability is nothing he can control, I see that now.  Time to start looking on ebay for parts I guess, to hold in stock.  Sad reflection on Ural but I guess I've been spoiled by how BMW always stocks parts even for the vintage era motorcycles!  This is not the case with the Ural, I guess its part and parcel of Ural ownership.  I was lucky he had a cylinder head assembly on hand, otherwise Natasha would probably still be waiting for parts.

One last thing, if you're used to or want daily feedback and reports, they're too busy for that at times.  Linda did her best but she's not technically conversant and every time Dennis has to stop to render status for a customer is time he's not working on a vehicle.  I think I found this the most frustrating.

I would say, once Dennis gets his staffing issues sorted out, that I will return to him for repair work when I need it on the Ural.  Patience is definitely something you need for small shops like his, so make sure you have a spare motorcycle and a good long period of good weather ahead if your spare doesn't have three wheels!

On the plus side however, its small shops like this that give your vehicle that personal touch.  Dennis "sorted out" some other things on Natasha as he found them.  It added to the cost but if it improves things, why not.

Thanks Dennis and Linda for getting Natasha fixed up!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Update: 12DEC2010:  Well, the repaired alternator didn't last very long.  I spotted smoke coming out of it today while riding, I took it off when I got home and fear I may have overtaxed it by hanging Christmas lighting on the rig.  So I started the process of removing the alternator in order to remove the adapter gear that mates to the engine's timing gears, this to take the alternator out of the equation until I could get it fixed.

example picture from Bill Glaser's website

The gear you see in the above picture is the adapter gear which mates to the timing gears.  As I unbent the cotter pin to start its removal, the piece I was unbending broke off!  You wouldn't think that after only two weeks of daily usage, the pin would break that easily, would you?

I got the cotter pin off and it was showing signs of wear/damage at several points.  I'd read about situations where this cotter pin goes "missing", the castle nut comes off, the adapter gear gets loose and causes damage to the timing gears.  Kind of similar to what happened to me when I first got Natasha, except in that case the gear seized somehow and sheared off instead.

I got the adapter gear off and thanked my lucky stars I'd overtaxed the alternator with the Christmas lights.  You see, the silver lining to my overtaxing the electrical system was finding a failing cotter pin.  I believe it would have been just a matter of time before the rest of the cotter pin failed, and eventually the whole gear would come loose, ruining my timing gears again!

Natasha is back to using a total loss electrical system, she's much quieter now too with the alternator out of play.  I'd not realized how noisy the damn thing was until I fired her up after putting her back together.  


Raftnn said...

Glad you got your baby back, I hate it when mine is in the hospital feels like a member of the family.

SonjaM said...

Talk about wait... picked up my lil' beemer today as well. It is great to be back on the road again.
I can't wait to read about the continuous adventures of Natasha. Winter is her time!

George F said...

I second Sonja, can't wait to see beautiful pictures of Colorado with snow and the bike :-) I'm happy Natasha is back

Oz said...

It is always good to get the bike back. It is also a great feeling when the test ride goes well and all seems to be back in order.
Now it is time to hit the roads again.

Circle Blue said...

Yay! and Yay!!


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

You have finally talked me out of a Ural. I too patronize a small, independent shop run by a Maestro. I wouldn't hve it any other way.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Fondest regards,
Jack • Reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

bobskoot said...


thank goodness, she's back.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

RichardM said...

I think I agree with Jack. Your experience has convinced me that I really don't want a Ural. I am still thinking of a sidecar rig for the all weather capability but will settle for one wheel drive. Hopefully, the alternator is set up better than it was before.

Now it's time to start hitting the passes again!


Gary France said...

It is funny how we think of our bikes almost like they are human. I laughed when I read the part when you talked about generally getting her settled into the garage. I am glad she has come/ home. It sounds as if Linden did a good job, despite being short of staff.

Chris Luhman said...

Glad you finally got your Ural back!

Charlie6 said...

well, back to no alternator...I updated the post with details if you're interested.