The failure of the XV535

The venerable twin was doing well. I had been racking up the miles having moved out of the city into a small town in the sticks. I’d been changing the oil every 2000 miles. Fresh filter every time. No surprises in there. Using Motul 5000 or 5100 as it is a reasonably good quality semi-synthetic at a price i didn’t mind paying for frequent oil changes. I think i’d changed the oil about 1000 miles previously.

I was on my way back from the dentist, which is in a village on the other side of the city. There is a dual carriageway that is mostly traffic lights. I accelerate away from the lights, into second, accelerate up to 40 (that being the speed limit) change up into 3rd and then there’s a loud clonk and and the back and starts to snake like i jumped on the back brake. I pull clutch in and the bike stops snaking. It’s also not running. I thumb the starter. Clonk! Not good. I throw a left indicator on and let the bike coast.

There are railings along both sides of the road so i can’t pull up safely. I toe the gear lever around until i have neutral. The bike comes to a halt just before a big roundabout that i dont like. I hop off and push the bike off the left exit. More railings each side, single carriageway and now an imparient bus behind me. I finally take refuge in the corner of a bus stop.

I call my local bike shop. They advise me that it’s at least a dropped valve if not a completely lunched engine, but bring it in and they will have a look. I call the RAC, describe problem. They have a patrol out quickly. Apparently their phone monkey understood the symptoms to be a flat battery. Facepalm. Patrolman summons a recovery truck for me. I have much fun with optional RAC survey asking patrolman to check the oil on my bike. He can’t find the dipstick. There isn’t one. I explain the procedure.

There’s a little window there, hold bike upright and look at the oil level. As the bike has been stopped for a while it should be dark which means it’s safe to start the bike. Do so and bring the engine up to temperature, turn off bike and leave for 3 minutes, then check level is between the upper and lower marks next to the window.

He tries to hold bike upright and look in the window which is just in front of the left footpeg. He can’t do both so I hold the bike. He gets a flashlight out and declares the window dark, and the whole procedure insane. He asks me how i manage. I tell him i have a mirror on a stick with a light on it, and that if the window is dark there’s enough oil so long as i haven’t just done an oil filter change, which requires the second check.

The RAC man departs and the recovery contractor arrives, we drop the bike at the shop and he gives me a ride home. I get a phone call the next day. Engine is full of metal fragments as the big end bearing has failed and at the very least it’s new pistons, com rods and cranshaft as it’s a proper mess. Beyond economical repair.

I begin bike hunting. I sold the remains through a web forum. I got more than salvage value, but little more than the new exhaust i’d fitted 12 months previously had cost me. I could have made a little more parting it out on ebay, but my housing contract forbids me from keeping motorcycles indoors and i had nowhere to work outdoors.






Sometimes the best therapy is pottering about sorting out a minor issue, or getting several layers of road grime removed. Particularly when it hurts too much to ride and  I need to keep stopping every few minutes. I replaced some of the fuel lines yesterday with new parts, hopefully they will stand up better to the alcohol in modern fuel, and might sort out the cause of the little black granules I keep finding in the float bowls, which might be part of the fuel hoses. Of course they could be part of carb o-rings, floats or gaskets, but replacing the cheap and easy things first as she seems to be running right.

Aren’t you hot in all that…

Why yes, yes I am, thanks for asking. And it’s mostly nylon over waterproof membrane stuff and high-tech armour over the bony bits.

It’s been hot this week. 30C. Took hot. Extra fatigue and almost no energy. Activity levels minimal. A great time to have someone else work on the bike.

The XV535 is a classic air cooled V-twin design. Timeless and simple, there’s no fans, radiators or coolant levels to worry about. Air rushing past the finned cylinder heads provides adequate cooling in most conditions. Stopped at a level crossing in winter, gloved hands are warmed on the engine. Stopped for any length of time in summer and the most comfortable thing to do is turn the bike off and get off.

The kit works pretty much the same way, relying on high-speed airflow to cool me down. There’s vents at the thighs in my trousers, and at the wrists and armpits in my jacket. My helmet has an assortment of adjustable vents and the visor can be wedged open a little if the noise can be tolerated.

In weather like this, it’s bearable when the bike is moving fast, town and traffic are avoided if possible.

Today I had things to do. An appointment in a village the opposite side of town, and then dropping the bike off to have the brake caliper serviced and the (probably original) brake line upgraded to a braided steel Venhill part. I took the long way round to my appointment to avoid sitting in traffic, and the bike didn’t seem bothered about being ridden hard in heat. I manage to get stopped at every level crossing though.

On my way back into town the bike begins to splutter and lose power as if it were running out of fuel. Operating the reserve switch does not help. I stop briefly and the problem disappears. I push on and it happens again. The bike cuts out just as I pull off the road onto a farm track. I can hear the fuel pump chattering away. Not good.

I strip my helmet, gloves and jacket off, and realise I am soaked in sweat. The sun is ferocious and if I am stranded here it’s going to be unpleasant.

I pop the pillion seat off, out come the tools, and quickly the rider’s seat is off. I can see fuel in the filter and it looks free from sludge. Off comes the side panel. I unclamp the fuel pump and loosen the fuel pipe between the filter and the pump, petrol streams out so that’s not my problem. The hose clamp on the carb side of the fuel pump is a rusty mess and isn’t moving in a hurry. I refit the fuel pump.

I phone my friend that was going to pick me up from the garage and tell him the story, and then phone the garage. They are really busy and can’t collect the bike. They suggest the fuel pump might be dead, (it’s making noise so unlikely), reserve solenoid might have packed in (again, already stranded me, but I’m getting fuel to the pump) or a trapped fuel line. I contemplate an RAC experience. I’d rather not. I pull off the carb end of the fuel line between the pump and the carbs, empty. I turn the key, the fuel pump whirrs away and a pathetic dribble of fuel comes out of the pipe. Bike off, I curse as I suspect the pipe I am holding has a blockage and I can’t remove the other end easily. Then I realise the fuel pump sounds like it’s running dry. Then I see it.

The usually stiff and impossible to kink high-pressure fuel pipe I fitted between the filter and pump has softened in the heat and has a massive kink in it.

I replace the detached pipe and undo the pump, holding it so the inlet pipe is at a less extreme angle, and turn the key again, instantly the sound of the fuel pump changes to that of one full of fuel. I wrap the section of pipe that is kinking tightly with zip ties, and re-mount the fuel pump, the bike starts at a push of the button. I reassemble the bike and I am quickly at my friend’s. He follows me in a car to the garage.

Looks like it was too hot for the bike as well today, and the high pressure heavy duty fuel line was worse than an unreinforced low pressure motorcycle fuel hose. Nothing that can’t be swapped out once I get the bike back. Zip ties saved the day though.



I know when she’s gonna break down as she makes more funny noses than usual

Anonymous Triumph rider on The Motorcycle Show.

I love my 535 and all her temperamental behavior. I usually have an idea of what’s up with her, it’s usually one of many things that just got worse than the others. She’s not even that old, born in 1992. I might take her somewhere nice for an extensive service when her 21st birthday comes around. I don’t know how I’d cope with a vehicle where you couldn’t hear and feel everything the engine was doing.

Rain and fenders


The fender extension I eventually fitted after much wrestling with the bike.

I suspect that I have done more miles in the wet than in the dry. I usually ride in waterproof textiles (nylon with a goretex/shelltex/other brand of similar membrane style waterproofing) so I stay quite dry. Leather with emergency waterproofs is an option but that tends to get sweaty inside and is a lot of messing around. I took my old 125 for trade in and came back with the 535 during an almighty deluge that flooded roads, and I found out the hard way that hitting a flooded road too fast causes the water to go underneath the wateproof jacket, and soak down inside trousers and run down the jacket into the gloves. Hideous. But that was the only time I’ve been really wet since I got decent waterproofs, so the rain doesn’t keep me off the roads, but it goes without saying I’m very careful not to fall afoul of the conditions.

The 535, however, has a hard time if it is really wet. The ignition coils live just above the front cylinder head, allegedly protected from the elements by a little plastic cover. Running in a deluge will eventually cause the bike to misfire and eventually stop, and as soon as this sets in the remedy is to stop, take the cover off and blast the area with WD40. It’s then a case of cleaning hands and riding on. I don’t go anywhere without a little can of WD40.


The neatly hammerited underside of the fender is only really visible off the bike.

I bought a fender extention as an attempt to sort this out. Allegedly dead easy to fit. Remove fender, stick in place with foam tape, drill and screw into place, reattach fender. Not quite so simple, first one of the fender bolts was rounded off, eventually shifted it with mole grips, found a replacement bolt of the same thread and cut it down to length. Then I saw the inside of the fender. There was a strip almost all the way along the middle of it where the paint had been abraded away, presumably by the action of gritty water being thrown at it. I decided to attack it with Hammerite. It’s not a place that is easily visible, so a good thick layer of tough paint is just the thing.


The connection between the coils and the wiring loom was a mess.

Waiting for the paint to dry, I thought I’d take a look at the low voltage side of the ignition coils, I’d replaced the coils, HT leads and plug boots a few months ago, which improved wet running marginally, but this part of the wiring loom was a state. Fortunately it’s all spade connectors.


A dirty corroded mess so I made new leads, didn’t take to long. I sprayed everything with Holts Damp Start which is a water repellent lacquer. Hopefully this will add some additional protection. Only time will tell.


Once removed from the plastic plug, the corroded state of the spade connectors can be seen.

The next morning the two coats of hammerite had dried enough to attach the fender extension, which was duly stuck in place, pilot holes drilled, and then I noticed that the provided screws stuck out so far as to present a hazard to the tyre, so out they came. Tried filing them down, getting nowhere fast, tried the dremel, tried the hacksaw but couldn’t hold them well enough. Eventually used a small set of bolt cutters, not strong enough to use in my hand, so covered jaws with a rag to stop parts flying across the room,and stood on them. Crack. Worked amazingly well, tidied screws up with a file and put them back in. By the time I was done and had tools away I forgot to take a photo, and didn’t do so until a month later.

Granted I got the camera out at first to keep track of the wiring I was redoing, but that’s not the point. Collapsed in a heap for a bit, had a coffee, swore my way into my kit and pointed the bike in the general direction of the two-footed love of my life. Didn’t move the next day until mid afternoon. Nearly missed my best friend’s birthday do. Got there just in time after a spirited dash across the back roads. Rest of the week has been a bit of a write-off.