CMG Life: Messing with my head

CMG Life – it’s not all Ducatis and wheelies. We have high points at work, but we have low points too and we thought we might as well share them …


When it comes down to it, the folks here at CMG are just like any other Canadian motorcyclist. Every spring, we have to haul the bike out of the shed and tune it up before we ride. Of course, that’s assuming we ever get a spring (he said, looking at the snow outside).

This year, I figured I’d better take care of a valve adjustment on my DR650 before unleashing it on the highway. So, I rolled it out of the shed into my workshop (aka the sunporch) and started the process. Eyeing up the motor, I noticed an oil leak between the top and bottom half of the cylinder head, and figured I’d better do something about that while I was working on the bike.

It would only take a few extra minutes, after all …

See, my riding buddies give me a lot of ribbing about the DR650’s maintenance schedule. I keep on top of stuff that’s vital (tire changes, oil changes, valve adjustment), but the bike rarely gets washed and usually lives outside in the yard.

This preemptive maintenance would prove my naysayers wrong; I’d be fixing an oil leak and doing my valves at the same time (two birds, one stone kinda thing). Except, when I started unbolting the head, one of the bolts snapped off.

After yelling loudly at nobody in particular for a few minutes, I calmed down and assessed the situation. It looked like the only way to get the bolt out would be to take the motor out of the frame, so I could disassemble it on a bench. Oh well, it is what it is.

The exhaust bolt chewed up an impact bit easily.
The exhaust bolt chewed up an impact bit easily (apologies for fuzzy photo).

Well, you know where this is going. The first obstacle was that I couldn’t get the exhaust off. The powder-coated header studs I’d inserted three years ago had oxidized so badly that one of them was simply impossible to extract. I tried the usual tricks – I stuck an extractor in the head, with no success. I cut a slot in the head for a flat-headed screwdriver – nothing. I hammered on it with a chisel – nada.

After a few hours I finally managed to get the bolt off by hammering in a progressively larger series of Torx bits (which actually works very well on rusted Allen bolts, as long as you don’t need to re-use the bolt, or the Torx bits). The carb came off the motor, I took out the engine mounts and pulled away some wires, lifted out the engine and put it on a bench … and saw I was in for more trouble.

Three stuck fasteners ended up being a lot of extra work, but when all was said and done, they weren't even seized. Photo: Bike Bandit
Three stuck fasteners ended up being a lot of extra work, but when all was said and done, they weren’t even seized. Photo: Bike Bandit

To get at the stuck bolt in the cylinder, I’d need to remove the cylinder head. And, to remove the cylinder head, I’d have to remove two studs that ran upside-down through the cylinder into the cylinder head. And, one of those studs was a rusty heap of slag.

After the obligatory college try with a few different sets of Vice Grips, I figured out that, realistically speaking, the only way that stud was coming out was if I ground the nut off with my Dremel. So that’s what I did.

And so on to the nut on the back stud, which wasn’t corroded, and so would be a cinch, right?

Wrong. Even though there’s minimal torque on these nuts, it simply refused to move. My wrench just started to round off the nut’s edges and once again, I tried with Vice Grips. Once again, I ended up breaking out the Dremel.

Thankfully, all the other head retaining bolts came out with no issues, and I was able to finally access the first bolt that had broken off in the head, causing all this mess to start with. To my surprise, the bolt wasn’t even stuck in the head, or corroded at all. As soon as I was able to get an extractor bit on it, it freely spun out.

The cylinder retaining studs weren't galled or corroded themselves, but the nuts were so far gone they had to be cut off.
The cylinder retaining studs weren’t galled or corroded themselves, but the nuts were so far gone they had to be cut off.

But now back to the two cut-off studs that I’d left in the cylinder head. One came out as soon as I was able to get a set of Vice Grips clamped down, the other – well, once again, I ran the gamut. I broke off a host of bits trying to drill it out for an extractor, I broke off an extractor, I used every set of Vice Grips I had in an attempt to grip it, but nothing, no way, no how.

I was about to take it to a welder to weld a nut to the stud, when Editor ‘Arris and I had the most unusual of CMG experiences – a brain wave. We stuck the remaining stud in a bench vice, cranked on the handle as hard as possible, and spun the engine head instead of the stud.

Bam. It came out instantly.

In Editor 'Arris's workshop. Note the out-of-commission motor from the project KLR in the background.
In Editor ‘Arris’s workshop. Note the out-of-commission motor from the project KLR in the background.

No all I have to do is buy some new studs, a head gasket and the DR should be all ship shape with adjusted valves ready to take on that riding season (assuming the metal filings in the oil don’t kill it first …).

So, take heart, people. Life may have you down, but at least you aren’t sitting on a disassembled engine and a pile of fresh snow in your yard on April 24, when all you want to do is go free-wheelin‘.

Living the life. Zac Kurylyk


  1. “…and usually lives outside in the yard”? Looks like the Karmic Kurse was visited upon you.

  2. Damn – that’s some serious corrosion.
    Still no weather-love in NB huh?
    We’ve had decent enough weather for a few short rides the last couple of weeks, but rain is the forecast for at least a week.

    Bike maintenance is a good, if less exciting option – hopefully you can enjoy the extra work you invested soon.

  3. I enjoyed reading about your struggle, glad it worked out in the end and having just seen the last ice melt off our driveway here in Chelsea, Quebec am also eager to get my bike out to ride! Your experience and frustration has been shared by many of us I am sure.

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