Spring 2002: Trial by Parts

The signs were becoming clear: I was going to have to replace some parts on my Lectra.

My left front fork seal, which had been leaking for some time, was becoming a serious problem, leaking copious amounts of fluid down into my brake assembly and becoming a safety issue.

The chain was stretching again, and I was running out of room on my eccentric cams to keep taking out its slack. Plus my brake cable was getting too tight and I was running out of slack on the little screw near the rear axle.

But worst of all, my rear sprocket was actually missing some teeth! They had gotten all thin and eroded because of my riding with a loose chain for too long. Replacing chains and sprockets is a bit like replacing batteries: better to replace the whole system at once. Otherwise the old, bad parts of the system will degrade the new parts. A stretched-out chain will wear larger arcs between the teeth of the sprocket, and too-large arcs will stretch out the chain.

This sprocket situation was also fast becoming a safety issue, joining the front fork seals in becoming a very compelling reason to get my Lectra fixed up. This, as it turned out, was going to be much more difficult than I imagined.

If It’s Not In the Book, Talk to the Hand

Naively, I thought I would simply call the nearest motorcycle repair shop and ask if they could match parts to the parts on my bike. Couldn’t they just take a look at the bike, make a couple of measurements, and find the best fit?


Any shop to which I suggested this nearly hung up the phone before I could finish my sentence. If my motorcycle was made by some large manufacturer and I could rattle off the model number, then they could look in their parts book and try to help me. But if my make and model weren’t in the book, forget about it.

Several places were happy to install the parts, if I brought them with me, but would not do the search. Increasing my frustration was the fact that I knew that most of the parts of my Lectra were indeed off the shelf; I just didn’t know which shelf. I had the assembly diagrams for my Lectra, but all the part numbers were EMB part numbers, not showing what make and model they had come from originally.

Worst of all, I knew that at least one of my parts—the rear sprocket—was indeed specially made and did not come off the shelf. I knew that my only hope of getting it replace was to have some machinist look at the old sprocket and cut a new one to match. When I asked the shops in town about this possibility, not only were they unwilling to do it, they didn’t have any recommendations as to where I could go to find a machinist who would be able to.

After striking out several times, I began to seriously worry about the future of my Lectra. Was I going to have to trundle it down to the landfill? Because I certainly don’t know how to whittle parts out of steel. I needed some help from someone who knew what they were doing. And I could not keep riding my Lectra indefinitely with the sprockets coming apart. I did not want to be racing along Broadway at 45 mph when my chain decided that it had had enough.

I felt sure that someone existed, somewhere, who knew how to find the Magic Maker of Custom Motorcycle Parts. One of the shops that I had stopped at in the beginning of my quest was Tucson Motorsports, at 22nd & Kolb, simply because they were nearby. The guy I had talked to at that time, Fernando, had given me the same brush-off that everyone else had, so I had given up on Tucson Motorsports as well.

However, when I had talked to Fernando the first time, it had been late on a Friday night, just before quitting time, while it was raining. Under those circumstances I might be tempted to give a customer with a complicated problem the brush-off as well. (I hope not, but I’m human.) Maybe, I thought, if I stop by again while business is in full swing, and I can get someone different who could get interested in my problem, I could get some help.

And so, on Valentine’s Day, at about 10 o’clock in the morning, I stopped into Tucson Motorsports again. This time I happened to run into a salesman who was intrigued enough by the Lectra and by my problem (my custom rear sprocket) to go a little further. As he was leading me back to the service bay, he called out, “Get Bob Vila!”

Now this was the kind of thing I wanted to hear. The Bob Vila of motorcycles, that’s what I needed. His real name was Greg LeBlanc and he wasn’t fazed by my unusual problems at all. Regarding the sprockets, he’s suddenly giving orders to people: “Go give Sprocket Specialists a call and see how long it will take them to machine new sprockets to match these,” and other things that gladdened my heart. I left, feeling that my Lectra was in good hands.

Here I must apologize to all my dear readers for my lack of before and after pictures. I have no real excuse, except that my life was very hectic during his time and a lot of things were going wrong, not just this. I felt that I had been marked for special treatment by the Great Hound of Entropy who was dogging my footsteps and untying my metaphorical shoelaces whenever he got the chance. And it was just on impulse that February 14th that I stopped in at Tucson Motorsports on my way to work; I hadn’t planned to do it that day.

However, with a tiny bit of presence of mind, certainly at some time when I realized I would need the repairs, I could have snapped a half-dozen quick pics of my rotting front fork seals and my chewed-up sprockets. But I didn’t. And when they quickly accepted it into the shop that day, I didn’t have another photo-op until after I got it back. So I have no “before” pictures! And without “before” pictures, what is the good of “after” pictures? Sigh. But believe me, those seals and sprockets were NAST-EH.

As it turned out, the sprockets were available much more quickly than the front fork seals. Sprocket Specialists actually does this sort of thing for a living, as it were, and the chain was a standard chain, a standard 420. The seals were another story.

Originally Greg had indicated that thy could measure and match the seals just as they did the sprockets, but this turned out somehow not to be the case. Tucson Motorsports was flummoxed. Nothing they had in stock matched, and the seal shops in town were not being helpful. I ended up having to contact Scott Cronk by email to find out what parts he and his crew had used, exactly, for the Lectra. As you can see by the letter, I was in desperate straits because they had already taken the seals off without having replacements ready to go. In Scott’s response he said that the front fork seals were from the Suzuki GS125. A make! A model! Surely my parts worries were at an end, since Tucson Motorsports was a Suzuki dealer in the first place.


Turns out the Suzuki GS125 was never released in the USA. I checked back with Scott Cronk and sure enough, EMB had bought a batch of the assemblies from Taiwan. At this point I’ve got to give credit to Robbie, the parts detective. He said he would take care of it and he did. Eventually he did indeed find a match, and I was able to take possession of my bike again.

I wish that this could have ended perfectly but it didn’t. When my bike was brought out to me, it was missing the chain guard entirely and the chain was way too loose. I pointed out the missing chain guard, and it was replaced, but when I also pointed out that the chain was too loose, Fernando (yeah, him) gave me some story about how that is how all the chains are tensioned because when you sit on the bike, it takes up the slack. Increasingly anxious to just have my Lectra in my possession again, I let myself believe this hot gas and rode away.

Of course, this was not true. The Lectra’s rear axle and motor are both connected to the same inflexible bar of steel, and a loose chain is going to stay that way even if someone sits on my shoulders as I ride. This was obvious not only by inspecting it stationary, but by the terrible noise it made while riding it, the noise of the chain sliding over one of the cross-supports as I rode. What I really wanted here was for a few links to be removed from the chain, so that the eccentric cams could be at their maximum extension. This would give me plenty of “margin” in the months to come as I will have to gradually re-tighten the chain.

So I took my bike to Sparks Cycle Supply, who had been so helpful with my chain replacement in the past. Note that they were quite uninterested in solving my parts mystery (I had called them first, in the beginning) but I knew that they did good work otherwise. The mechanic who worked on my bike quickly adjusted the brake cable and cams but did not shorten the chain. This annoyed me, but he insisted that removing links was not called for in this case. And I have to admit, the Lectra rode just perfectly after he was done with it. As of this writing, three months later, I have not had to tighten the chain at all. All of this suggests that in fact he knew what he was doing.

A short time later my odometer passed the 6000-mile mark. Full speed ahead!


Final price: US$392.16 Here is a picture of the itemized receipt, which also shows the specs of my sprockets and chain.

Total time my bike was in the shop: 6 weeks, 5 days

Robbie gave me a scrap of cardboard with a complete list of all of the bike makes and models whose front fork seals match mine. This will help immensely the next time I need to replace them. The parts are:

 Yamaha DT50MX/80MX, AT/CT2, MX/YZ100/125, DT125/175, MX175, TY125, RD200A/B/C
Suzuki RM100, TC100, TM100, TS100, RV/TC125, TM125, TS125, TC/TS185 (B)

Biggest regret: Not ordering three to five times the number of sprockets and seals I needed, so I would have them on hand for next time! Worst of all, Greg and Robbie both offered to order extras, at different times. I have no rational explanation for why I said “no”. None at all. At least I know more for next time.

However, five months later, I wished I hadn’t spent a cent on those parts, because the Lectra finally hit the end of the line