Jump to content

Tools for the road - And now the rest of the story

Mike O

Recommended Posts

It so happened I landed a bit lucky that Monday night. I started out for our BMWMCC meeting Monday afternoon, and after getting geared up, started the RT. Hmmm, that alternator warning light shouldn’t be on that long. Shut the engine down, wait a few seconds and start up again… Aww, life is good. No more warning light.


I head towards the freeway, and just near the on ramp, I smell something burning…and the alternator warning idiot light is back on. Fortunately (and here’s where the luck part comes in), I’m only 5 miles from home, so I do a quick u-turn and head back to the homestead. I’m pretty sure that the problem is a busted belt (the bike is at 34K miles) and I have been carrying one on the bike for this very reason. I’m just lucky this happened close to home.


But…as Paul Harvey would say “Now for the rest of the story."


Being in the garage and having the new belt at hand, I was repeatedly telling myself how glad I was this didn’t happen on the way to Paonia. But what the hell, I’m prepared. I have the new belt, and I have tools at hand. So, I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to test out how prepared I would have been had this happened on the road, far from home. I figured I’d attempt the belt replacement WITH ONLY THE TOOLS ON MY BIKE.


My bike is a 2003 R1150RT and came from the factory with this dandy collection of tools stuffed in the back tail section of the bike:




I’m sure many of you recognize this, as some of the tools are required for basic maintenance (like the spark plug wire puller thingy). I reached in, grabbed the allen wrench and proceeded to disassemble the Tupperware. So far so good.


I get to the part where I have to remove the ‘shark fin’ (that’s this interesting looking piece of plastic) – Many folks have asked what the shark fin is so I’ve included the photo below.




Now I get to the alternator cover. I reach back into the standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit and look for the 4mm allen wrench necessary to remove the alternator cover. And I look…And I look and guess what? No wrench. (Why BMW chose to leave this out of the kit is beyond me.) So, there you have it. The BMW tool kit is absent a critical tool to complete this roadside repair.




However, I did purchase this gem at last years Top of the Rockies Rally. It’s a complete metric allen wrench set in a convenient holder that doubles as a right angle ‘T-bar’ like grip:




And yes, it included a 4mm wrench. So, off came the alternator cover. And as the bottom tilted forward, little pieces of belt came falling out. Low and behold, the belt had been shredded!




There are many other contributors to this community that have written detailed procedures for changing out a belt so I won’t address that here, and it’s not the point of this story anyway. Those of you that HAVE completed this repair do however know that in order to replace and adjust the belt requires loosening 3 bolts. The size of this bolt requires use of a 13mm wrench. I reach back into the standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit and yes, folks, there is a 13mm wrench in the tool kit.


With my “as of yet un-skinned knuckles”, I grab the wrench, reach under the belly of the RT and proceed to push with all the might the upper torso of this 50 year old body could muster. The bolt didn’t budge. I thought…Maybe if I laid on my back and pushed with all my might….And so I pushed and I felt my hand start to move away from me…


Success I thought! Only to have my “as-of-yet-un-skinned-knuckles” launch forward toward BMW’s famed front telelever front shock support. I can now attest the density of the metal that the telelever front shock support is manufactured from is far more solid than the epidermis protecting this 50 year old’s knuckles.


Between you and me, let’s just say I’m glad the garage door was closed so neighbors couldn’t hear what echoed about the walls of my 2-bay garage. At that moment in time, I couldn’t give a rats a$$ if the alternator bolt was loose or not. I had reached back into the hollows of my mind and conjured up that same foul language I used the last time I tested the durability of my knuckles (changing out a torque converter on a 1970 Ford Boss Mustang 351). Since this is a ‘family’ community, I won’t document that language here!


And I can’t recall having stood up so fast from that prone position strategically placed in an attempt to loosen the alternator adjustment bolt. I sprang to my feet, clutching the standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit 13mm wrench and flung it as hard and far as I could across the garage. Embedded in the sheet rock not 20 feet from me was the perfect imprint of Munich’s engineering talent.


After the endorphins settled down (with the aid of a large bandage and a Corona) I examined the belly of the BMW R1150RT naively thinking most of the effort required to replace that broken belt was complete. Now I glanced under the front of the bike and ripped the remainder of the old belt out. I looked at the culprit bolt, having convinced myself that the standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit 13mm wrench had left the alternator in a ‘loose’ position ready to accept a replacement.




What the ???? I hadn’t even budged the bolt. The bolt now had not one but two shiny surfaces where the standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit 13mm wrench had smartly glazed its surface.


So why do I mention this? I had quickly learned (at the expense of my knuckles) that the standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit 13mm wrench was worthless loosening that bolt required to place a new alternator belt in the under belly of my bike. It's two short to gain any real leverage.




Folks, the tools BMW provides us are hypocritical at best. They masquerade as useful instruments giving us a false sense of security. The standard issue, official BMW R1150RT tool kit leads its 50-year-old shade tree mechanics into believing that something simple such as replacing an alternator belt could be accomplished on the side of the road. Don’t trust BMW.


You folks that complained the new R1200 bikes didn’t come with a tool kit? I say, “Count your as-of-yet-un-skinned-knuckles”! There’s a good reason BMW didn’t supply a standard issue, official BMW tool kit 13mm wrench. It wasn't to save money. It's a safety issue! I suspect that during product development, they asked one of their engineers to use the tools in the proposed standard issue, official BMW R1200RT tool kit and found the tools embedded in the sheet rock not 20 feet from the engineer as a perfect imprint of Munich’s engineering talent. An imprint much like the one I now have in my garage.


Yes, I ultimately replaced the belt. I relied on this man’s ingenuity to provide for sale a REAL 13mm wrench, with a length sufficient to gain the necessary leverage to loosen that bolt.




Oh, by the way, there was also NO tool in the official BMW R1150RT tool kit suitable for lifting the alternator up to a point I could fasten the bolt to place enough tension to hold the belt in place. And no that lug wrench is too fat and not long enough.






And the finished project after cutting the cover in two to make it easier for future inspection and saved epidermis.




Folks…I would encourage to examine WHAT you carry with you to do roadside repairs. There is probably an individual or two that have used the tools in that kit with some success (I'm not sure how they missed the 4mm allen wrench) using the the 13mm wrench, and lug wrench. But you can never assume that deep within the hollows of your mind is language unsuitable for public consumption because the BMW marketing folks in Munich never really expected you to use any of the tools from the official BMW R1150RT tool kit. Try those repairs at home and you’ll quickly realize any hope of completing emergency repairs will require far better (and additional) tools than what is in the tail section of your bike that BMW supplies.


Ask my knuckles how I know.


Mike O

Link to comment

Hate to tell you, but the new belt can be rolled onto the pullys. Just get it started on the small end more than the big end. Put the tranny in 6 and turn the rear wheel, belt will put itself on.



Link to comment
Hate to tell you, but the new belt can be rolled onto the pullys. Just get it started on the small end more than the big end. Put the tranny in 6 and turn the rear wheel, belt will put itself on.



That's AFTER you removed the alternator cover with the tool that's missing from the BMW tool kit? Right? The point of the story was the inadequacy of tools in the kit.


Mike O

Link to comment

that's good to know but I personally never expected the toolkit with the bike to include everything needed to replace the alternator belt. BMW does sell a deluxe tookit for the oilheads which they say:


"Together with the Standard Tool Kit, this selection of tools can perform nearly all emergency motorcycle repairs."


So they at least acknowledge the fact there are some shortcomings.

Link to comment

Thanks for the report.

On my F650, I have combined assorted tools that I've used to do various maintenance items and consolidated them into my tool bag which resides in the tank bag. All of this was done for the same reasons you specify. I don't want to do a roadside repair and realize my Torx key is 2" too short to reach what I need to remove. So, I inventory what would amount to "routine repair" item tools.

You learned the lesson at home rather than under an overpass somewhere. Count yourself fortunate.

Link to comment

Unless already cut in half, what's the best way to get the belt cover off and out of the way?


Your post is excellent, and a great argument for preventive maintenance. Sounds like ~30K miles is time to replace the old belt before it breaks, at a place and time and expense of your choice, rather than the choice of the broken belt.


BTW, what's the purpose of that shark fin? Guide vane for cooling air?

Link to comment

First thing I do when I get a new bike is to go over the factory tool kit and look for what might be essential to working on the bike. I then throw the entire kit away and replace with an assortment of tools from my "spares" department. I have been doing this stuff too long to rely on what the factory chooses to get from whatever low bidder they can find. Used to be that BMW supplied the best tool kits in the industry. You could do a top end job on your bike with the tools supplied in the typical kit with any of the '70's BMW's, not to mention just ordinary maintenance. The bean counters scotched that idea somewhere around the turn of the century.


I have about 1100 lbs of tools sitting in my garage and can do ANY work that takes my fancy. I have access to machine shops and welders for the more difficult stuff. I now carry an assortment of quality tools with me, details vary, depending on the bike, but a couple of basic kits are always in the bags. An electrical kit, a maintenance kit and such extras as lube, polish (infrequently used) and a tire plugging kit.


BTW, my primary kit consists of a cell phone, a credit card and my AAA+RV membership card. I now pretty much ride Hondas and other than some chain lube for a nightly lube, that is all I need.

Link to comment


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...