The Top-End Rebuild...

In about May-June 2004 the bike started blowing more and more smoke on startup. So I did a compression test and arrrggghh, 3 out of 4 cylinders weren't much over 100psi, rising by about 15 or 20 psi 'wet'. So leaky rings were definitely part of the problem. Nothing for it but to tell the wife to forget buying food for a while, and then I set to pulling apart the top end (July 2004). And what did I find? Here goes...

Well, after 2 hours' leisurely work the top end of the engine was in pieces. After carting the head and cylinder block off to a renowned Perth motorcycle engineering crew, and having things analysed by folks more qualified in these matters than myself, the verdict was as follows:
  1. The exhaust valve guides were a bit worn, but well within tolerances and certainly not worth replacing.
  2. Pistons were fine.
  3. Dimension-wise, the bores were also fine.
  4. The rings looked a bit worn, especially the '2nd' rings, which had lost most of their bevelled edges.
  5. The real culprit in the oil-consumption and compression department, however, appears to have been that the bores had been honed too coarsely in the past, and it is this coarse hone that had chopped out the rings and led to the low compression figures. So the motorcycle engineer gurus performed a fine hone to rectify things.
  6. Naturally a new set of piston rings was needed. Click here to view Wiseco's instructions for piston ring installation.
  7. The head was bead-blasted to clean it all up — including valve dressing and lapping-in. This revealed some small cracks developing between the spark plug holes and the valve seat inserts in the inner two cylinders, ie. cylinders 2 and 3 — not good news. It indicates that the motor had been running hot. Of course I know the cause: the previous owner(s) had been running a bored-out cammed-up free-breathing engine on stock-standard jetting (see the dyno chart here for the way-lean air-fuel mixture over 5000 rpm when the bike had the standard jets installed).
  8. The motorcycle engineer chap said that there is a small chance (perhaps 5%) that these cracks could eventually cause a valve seat to drop out, causing... well, it doesn't take too much to imagine the consequences. But it would have cost me a further $400 to have the cracks welded up and a new lot of valve seats inserted and machined. So financial constraints mean that (gulp) I have taken a punt and decided to leave the cracks unfixed, especially since I think the overheating is now taken care of. Time alone will tell if I have been wise...
  9. Of course a new Wiseco head-gasket for the oversize pistons was required.
  10. And last — but by no means least — a fresh set of valve-stem seals was also popped in.

So, about two weeks after the tear-down, it was The Moment Of Truth. I went over things about 40 times in my head before I finally hit the starter button (naturally I had turned the crank over by hand to make sure that valves weren't going to crash into pistons, etc). Oil? Check. Cam timing? Check. All bolts tightened? Check. Cam-chain tensioner correctly installed? Check. Any bits left over? Nope. Etcetera.

Well after a fair bit of cranking the bike finally started. I think it just took some time for the fuel to get in. And once it was holding its own at idle, I took the bike for a quick strop around the block, up through the gears and back down again, and then let her cool down for a while. Now that things have settled in a little more, I must say that it is a different machine. It starts much more easily. And it sounds crisper and smoother. And no blue smoke when it starts, either — which is a joyous thing indeed.

I might add that working on these engines is A PLEASURE. They are straightforward, well-engineered, sensible lumps. I mean, you try pulling apart the top-end of your average water-cooled machine in a bit over 2 hours. If I'd been doing this job on one of my previous GPz's, it would have taken at least 2 days...

The GS1000ST's engine rebuild page is here.

A Short Guide to Top End Dismantling and Reassembly...

Below is my short 'guide' that I use whenever I'm dismantling the Katana motor's top end (which I have done about 3 times to date). It saves me wading through the detailed manual every time, and simply gives the order in which I need to do things. I allow 2-3 hours for disassembly. Maybe it can be done faster than that — but remember the old adage, "a stitch in time saves nine"...

Reassembly is, of course, reversing the order and working your way through the list of tasks from the bottom, up.

The Guide isn't quite in the same league as Rob Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance... but it does have elements of Karate Kid's "wax on, wax off" if you really think about it.

The Unfortunate But Necessary Disclaimer:
This Guide is 'short hand', and should only be used by those happy spannerers who are familiar with each step.
In other words, don't come whinging to me because this short hand list didn't tell you to disconnect the fuel line from the tank, and then like Lemony Snickett you suffered A Series of Unfortunate Events.
This Guide assumes a whole lot of things; so if you don't recognise the assumptions in each step (like, here's another one: fixing the cam chain tensioner's screw and locknut before you pull it out... see?), then don't use this Guide. If you are in doubt about anything, please consult your qualified mechanic; I am not a qualified mechanic, and I am not advising or instructing in any way.
Oh for a world without wretched disclaimers.

  1. Seat
  2. Side covers
  3. Air box
  4. Disconnect battery
  5. Petrol tank
  6. Side 'scoops'
  7. Ignition coils
  8. Horn
  9. Crankcase breather
  10. Chrome cam cover end caps
  11. Cam cover
  12. Cam cover gasket
  13. Carburettors
  14. Throttle cable
  15. Exhaust system
  16. Spark plugs
  17. Cam chain tensioner
  18. Camshaft bearing caps
  19. Camshafts
  20. Front cam chain guide
  21. Three 6mm bolts (one either end of the head, the 3rd at the front)
  22. Head nuts & washers
  23. Head
  24. Head gasket
  25. Cylinder block
  26. Base gasket

* * * * *

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