Thursday, May 16, 2013

Uraling in Alaska - Day 38: Returning ignition troubles cause major change in plans.

Woke today to wet snow falling in the Valdez, Alaska area and points north.  The snow was melting as soon as it hit ground.

Taking my time, to allow the plows a chance to clear Thompson Pass, I packed up Valencia and by 9:00 AM I was headed out of town and towards the pass on Richardson Highway.

I remember thinking that the road was feeling rough, but didn't think much of it.  Then it got rougher and I realized it was Valencia running rough in the wet snowy rain that was pelting the both of us as we rode along!


I turned her around, less than 5 miles from Valdez fortunately and limped back to the Downtown B&B Inn where I'd spent the night.

Troubleshooting procedures ensued.

Found NO evidence of water inside the engine front cover which houses the PowerArc ignition electronics unit.

Tried wrapping the exposed terminals that link the coil on the front of the engine to the Powerarc unit, no change, still very rough running when accelerating.  The exact same symptoms that I thought I had gotten rid of!  Note, there's been no rainy day riding since that day I know, rain is a major factor.

Verified no blockage of the crankcase ventilation hoses.

Checked the spark plugs, found them black and sooty and fouled.  Aha! I thought, I put in the spares I had after I properly gapped them but no go.  Still rough running.

Checked for wear/tear on the wiring/spark plug cables.  Nothing.

About this point, the inn's owner took pity on me working outside in the snow in his parking lot and offered me the use of his shop located next door to the inn!  This made working on the rig much more comfortable!

The Innkeeper's Shop

Once inside and out of the weather, I even started the process of swapping in the old Ducati ignition module but was stopped by a mounting bolt used by the Powerarc system, couldn't remove it, broke the tip of the Allen wrench in the bolt!  So, until I find someone with the right tools, kind of stuck using the Powerarc system.

Several calls to Jim and Cal of Raceway Services and after checking that engine compression was the same on both jugs, Jim has now shipped a replacement Powerarc system to me, it's scheduled to arrive here in Valdez this Saturday, two days from now.

In the meantime, kind of stuck in Valdez.  Even though she's mobile, Valencia is running rough since it's still raining here.  It's supposed to rain for the next two days.  I am almost willing to bet that if it was a sunny day tomorrow, she'd run just fine (like she did yesterday).  Sigh.

So, on to the major change in plans:

Even if the replacement module components do the trick and Valencia starts running right again in the rain, I think its time to start heading homewards.

I am now researching taking the ferry from Valdez to Whittier, and then from Whittier take the ferry to Bellingham, WA.  I discussed this with my loving wife Martha and the few hundred dollars extra that it'll cost to take the ferry instead of riding Valencia back through Canada is not a deciding factor.

Once in Bellingham, I'd head down the coastal highways of Washington State and Oregon, and perhaps swing by Raceway Services to discuss things with them.  We'll see how the replacement unit is doing then.

So, I'll be missing out on a planned sidecarist gathering in Talkeetna, AK this coming Memorial Day weekend; as well as a planned visit with an Army buddy of mine who's visiting his daughter in Anchorage that same weekend.

The thought of taking the ferry had been bouncing around the back of my mind for several days if not weeks now.  I had not really been looking forward to riding through Canada's hinterlands again, and with an iffy ignition system, my trust in Valencia's abilities to get me through is not at an all time high as you might imagine.  I just hadn't planned on taking the ferry back this month!

I've been extremely fortunate so far, in terms of favorable places to have breakdowns, I can't expect that luck to last....the next time might be in the hinterlands of Alaska or Canada.

Well, that's it from Valdez.  Quite the day, full of frustrations, disappointments, worry and just being wet and cold.  Still, no one's hurt, I am warm and safe at the inn, with access to a bay in the owner's shop, and I've a plan.


GlennandSun said...

Dom I am so sorry you are having such terrible mechanical difficulties. As you pass south of Bellingham I imagine you will take the ferry across Whidbey Island to Port Townsend and start down Highway 101. At Aberdeen, on Gray's Harbor, you will pass within 19 miles of our Westport home. If you are anywhere in our area, Sun and I would go to great lengths to ease your difficulties and/or help in any way you allow.
If you stay around Seattle and cross the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton you will pass within 2 blocks of our Bremerton home, small but a dry place with the best Asian food west of the Pacific Rim. You are welcome under any conditions. Sun returns from Borneo this Wednesday night.
This has to be very disappointing, bad things do happen to good people. Things will work out and Valencia will be purring like a kitten in no time. Thanks Dom for sharing. Our hearts go out to you. glennandsun

Bob and Sharon said...

Wow that is really messed up, I still don't quite understand the reason for two separate ignition systems. Apparently one is a upgrade, and they kept the original system connected just in case?

Well at least your problems happened in Valdez, you'll be able to get some great pictures in Whittier, if you have a chance stop in at Varleys fish shack in Whittier great halibut.

Ride safe my friendit was great meeting you, follow me on POW next month


Redeye said...

Dom, I appreciate your blog for its good reading and photos, but is a Ural worth the effort?
As relief from the problems why not get some red hot needled and stick them in your eyes? Much more relaxing than owning a Ural?
Best of luck!

SonjaM said...

Bummer! Very kind of the innkeeper to let you use his garage. Valdez is beautiful (but we had sun back then). Hope you still find something interesting around to keep you busy.

You might not have envisioned the trip to go like this but a ferry ride is not the worst that can happen ;-)

Good luck!

Andy & Laura said...

We are so sorry to hear of the problems you are again having. I'm sure they are a source of disappointment and frustration for you. May you find joy though in remembering all the good you've experienced both in the people you've met and the sights you've seen. Riding safe involves riding smart and there is great wisdom to be found in not pushing your luck. May you continue to be safe and smart in the next leg of your amazing journey.

Geodoc said...


There's a place for you at Wapiti Woods if you get near Enumclaw again.

Unknown said...


On the optimistic side, perhaps the New Powerarc ignition will "fix" the problem. Fingers crossed that there was a problem with the old one. On your ride north you could re-assess and perhaps change your mind to continue your trip.

I know you wanted to ride the Icefields Parkway a few years ago and now it may look like you have to come back to BC/AB again. I think most of us are disappointed too.

I wonder if the original Ural ignition would have worked without problem and it would be ironic that your upgrade to make Valencia more reliable was the reason for all this trouble.

How about using the replacement Powerarc to get you back to Fairbanks. Then leave your Ural with the dealer to put Valencia back to stock, remove the Powerarc and get a refund/return it. Fly home and when your rig is refreshed, fly back when the weather turns to continue your trip ? It would be a shame to be so close and not continue on

Riding the Wet Coast

CCjon said...

Damn, so sorry to hear about the latest glitch. Don't quite understand how water is getting in and affecting your ignition so easily... though I did have rain cause a voltmeter to give false readings on another bike when in Alaska.

Is there a way to seal the ignition area against water getting in? Or does it have to "breath"??

Am sending u a pm shortly.


RichardM said...

Remember a few years back when your R80 had problems in the rain, didn't it turn out to be hairline cracks in the coil. What about something similar. Have you pulled the new PowerArc coil and looked for similar cracks? Or here is something to try, thoroughly dry off the coil using a hair drier or something, wrap it in pastic so water can't splash on it from the road. Test ride....

redlegsrides said...

GlennandSun, thanks very much, will definitely keep you guys in the loop if I go this route.

Bob and Sharon. Bob, the stock ignition is not in play. The ducati's electronic module is still mounted but disconnected, the ducati coil and hall effect sensor are off the bike. What is the POW?

redlegsrides said...

SonjaM, the kindness of the folks I've met on this trip is truly remarkable.

Andy and Laura, thanks for the well's an adventure right?

Bobskoot, yep, it would be truly the peak of irony that the upgrade turns out faulty, which I hope it does. As to the plan you propose, it's got merits, but we shall see.

CCJohn, I've verified no water getting to the control unit, the cover on the front of the engine is not watertight but havent found water in it after the test runs.

RichardM, good idea re the bag, that's next in the process I guess. Right now awaiting the loan of a timing light to make sure my timing is OK after I reinstalled the powerarc module during troubleshooting.

Martha said...

The gremlins continue to express their thoughts on your riding in wet conditions. I hope that you can sort it out.

Regardless of the technical difficulties, I would sleep easier if you took the ferry route home. Those are some isolated stretches you would be riding home in, and with gremlins and road weariness, I just would love to see you "coast" for a bit. Your nights spent riding through rural Canada were some of my most restless nights (see? I am a worrier, loving and enabler, but also, worry about your well being and safety).

And honestly, a URAL on a ferry? How cool is that...

Whatever decision you make, I'm ok with...this trip has been yours to experience all that there is to see, just didn't anticipate the things you'd be seeing would be so much of the mechanical side of Valencia.

The perfect solution is your find the glitch in the mechanics, stick around for the side-car gathering, but make a reservation to ferry back to the states, meet up with new friends and see wonderful parts of Washington and Oregon that you may have missed in your haste to get to Alaska.

Shucks, maybe the boys and I will road trip that way and meet up with you once you return in the states. We started this trip as a family vacation, it might be fun to finish it up family style?

RichardM said...

I like Bob's plan except you can leave the rig here until ALL of the bugs get worked out. That could take years.... ;-)

redlegsrides said...

Redeye...I am going to assume you're just joking. If not, then it's a URAL thing, you have to own one to understand....