Friday, July 31, 2020

Convert gearbox to get Royal Enfield shifting right

Motorcycle with gearshift on the right-hand side.
Owner wanted original-quality shifting so he bought an original gearbox for parts.
Since 1995, when Royal Enfield Bullets were imported to the United States, it has been an Act of Faith that owners of four-speed, left-shift Bullets ought to convert them to shift on the right.

The Bullet was intended to shift on the right, when designed in England in the 1940s, and had been built that way in India ever since, until the introduction of the five-speed gearbox.

The left-shift "bodge" required for the U.S. is blamed for introducing slop, false neutrals, and inauthenticity. Sometime in 2004 the new five-speed gearbox, designed from the start to shift on the left, brought relief to Bullet riders everywhere.

But let's say you have an older U.S. Bullet, and want better shifting.

You could do as I have, and just make the left-side bodge work as good as it can.

Or, you could purchase and install a kit to convert the Bullet back to right-shifting. (This is not for beginners.)

Or, it turns out, you could purchase an entire old Albion gearbox built from the start to shift on the right, and harvest its parts to convert your Bullet to right shifting.

And that is exactly what Mitch Smith, of California, did for his 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet. He was kind enough to explain how he did it. (He calls his formerly red Bullet "Krasny Oktobr" — Russian for Red October — after the fictional submarine).

"I got tired of the mystery-slop shift linkage on my '99 Bullet Red October. Hitchcocks had a used trans for about $250, so I had them ship it over along with a $25 chrome brake pedal and brake pivot stud. Shipping was about $100. The regular right-hand shift conversion kit is about $340-ish plus maybe $30 for shipping.

"So for about the same money I now have the shift conversion plus a transmission case and gears to muck about with. The transit time was supposed to be about 8-10 days, but it was at my door four days later. I guess maybe DHL has an old SR-71 Blackbird and a retired Air National Guard pilot on the payroll?

"The sale transmission supplied all the shifter bits I was needing to take Krasny Oktobr back to right-hand shift. A new brake stud fitted up to my frame with no problem, so now Red October sports a spiffy chrome brake lever on the left side, as is only proper. I removed about 10 pounds of iron shafts and linkages of the factory bodge. Maybe I'll try a little shift plate adjustment tomorrow, but it's pretty good for being thrown together.

Gearbox parts and tools on the ground.
Taking only parts leaves most of the donor gearbox to play around with.
"Pretty straightforward stuff. All the pix are post-event as my hands were quite black and greasy for the entire process.

"The muffler and header have to come off, as does the kickstart lever and shift lever. All work was performed whilst on the center stand.

"The brake bits extract from the right, eventually. The stud threaded right into the factory tapped hole on the frame; there is a lock nut applied to the backside. Vice grips were invaluable.

"I ordered extra stainless nuts as the thread is that peculiar Brit motorcycle pitch. Anti-seize and grease. The angled Zerk from the old brake fit right in.

"The shift bodge has a subframe section that also supports/guides the footpegs and retains the shift bodge. It's retained by two bolts: the footpeg hex stud and another rear cross-frame stud that looks to be involved with the centerstand.

"The left footpeg is removed and the hex bar drifts back with some persuasion from a wood block to clear the sub frame. The rear bolt has nuts on both sides; loosen and the sub frame pivots down. I separated the linkage behind the bodge shift lever, and after the sub pivoted down that part came out.

"The shifter crossbar is harder. Loosen the shift arm linkage bolt and now attack the actual shifter. Pull the outer cover and hardware. A manual is highly advised unless you are already painfully familiar with the guts of it.

"When you get all five of the inner cover retaining screws out (don't overlook the countersunk flathead!), remove the circlip from the shift shaft and the inner cover comes off. There are two shouldered bolts on the back side of the trans that block the shift shaft from sliding out — remove these. The link arm near the sprocket can now be worked loose as the shaft is pulled out from the right side. Put your shoulder bolts back in and re-tighten.

"The shift mechanism bits from the donor cover can now be fitted in place. Use the manual to confirm what you think you know. I had to reuse my existing kickstart shaft as the donor one's bushing was hinky. Any trans oil leakage will be from either around the kickstart shaft or through the layshaft bearing. The kickstart has a nifty O-ring, as does the cap on the bearing. I've never had much issue with running oil in the trans but many others have. Since the kickstart shaft is lower in the case, I'd make sure it's O-ring is a good one.

"Hoo Hoo Hoblin has posted an excellent how-to-video on YouTube about this.


"Anyway, I did it (mostly) with used junk and it works.

"I put about two miles up and down my rural 300-foot driveway today working on the mental changeover gymnastics for right-hand shift, left-hand brake mode. The basic shift operation is dramatically improved; it feels like you are actually operating the shifting mechanism instead of just sending a hopeful suggestion somewhere.

"The ancient strategy of holding the shifter engaged whilst releasing the clutch works well. I'm trying real hard not to entertain the other drivers by downshifting the brake on a hill or upshifting to fourth gear in a corner instead of applying the rear brake.

"Note to self: It's now ONE UP, THREE DOWN... on the RIGHT."

Friday, July 24, 2020

Replacing a Royal Enfield speedometer

Original and replacement Royal Enfield speedometers.
Proof that my Royal Enfield Bullet has travelled more than 42,000 miles;
original speedometer/odometer, left, new (used) one as installed, right.
No trip odometer? No problem

Here is one tip for old Royal Enfield motorcycles I like a lot. Tim from New Zealand suggested an easy way to remember when to fill the gas tank: add gas every time the odometer rolls over 100 miles. You'll never have to try to memorize the mileage again.

I liked the advice, but there was no way I could use it. The odometer of my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet stopped turning over at 42,480 miles.

I ignored the broken odometer for years, mostly because I was too proud of having racked up so many miles and so didn't want to give up my original speedometer/odometer.

But then a used one that looked similar came up on eBay and I bought it. It shows only 434 miles, which hopefully means it will work for many miles to come. We'll find out.

Interior view of Royal Enfield Bullet headlight nacelle.
View of original speedometer inside the nacelle, with
 cable detached, bracket removed and main light bulb pulled.
I am no mechanic, so it was my hope that I could unplug and remove the old speedo, install the new one and plug in the original bulbs and their wiring. From what I could see by peeking inside the motorcycle nacelle, behind the headlight, the original speedometer and the new one looked the same, although with possibly a different finish.

My original was stamped 12/98, obviously the date of manufacture, while the new one was stamped 06/2002. Obviously, the replacement one really is newer.

First step was to disconnect the speedometer cable.

Then I unplugged the main speedometer light bulb with its wiring. The warning bulbs for high beam, neutral and turn signal, though, are well back on the body of the speedometer and hard to reach. And the high-beam warning bulb was pinned beneath an edge of the bracket that holds the speedometer in place.

The bracket would have to come off anyway, to remove the speedo, so I left the three bulbs and their wiring in place for the moment and attacked the big nut holding the bracket. I found a 7/8-inch socket fit the big nut and was a big help getting it off.

The bracket, once off, was strangely shaped. I instantly forgot which way the bracket was supposed to go back on. Did it matter?

Yes. But no worries.

View of bottom side of replacement speedometer unit.
Here's how the bracket should fit. Note how neatly the half-round
hole fits around the plug for the high-beam bulb.
The key to getting it back on correctly is the half-circle notch in one side of the bracket. That notch — cleverly — allows service access to the high-beam warning bulb without removing the bracket!

The fact that the high-beam bulb had been pinned on mine indicated that the factory had put the bracket on backwards in 1998. I guess it doesn't matter that much.

Once the bracket was off it was easy to push the speedometer up from the bottom. But I could not push it out of the nacelle yet, because it was still held by the wiring of the warning bulbs. Unplugging them was made easier by the fact that the speedometer was loose, as I could get a screwdriver in to pry them out. They were in really tight.

With the speedometer finally completely out I could see there is a rubbery gasket that fits under the bezel of the speedometer and presumably keeps moisture from getting under the speedo into the nacelle. I would re-use this.

View of rubber gasket labelled with "D."
Letter "D" on bottom side of gasket tells you which part
of the rubber ring goes "Down" at the bottom of the speedometer.
This gasket is not the same width or thickness all the way around. The letter "D" on the bottom of the gasket marks the point that is supposed to be "Down" on installation. Very helpful.

Moment of truth! In goes the new speedometer. I installed the warning bulbs, bracket and speedometer light. The big nut on the bracket pulls the speedo down tight against the nacelle. (It's  a bit tricky getting the big nut tight without turning the speedo out of place in the nacelle. Note that the big nut has more grip on the bracket when oriented with its flattest side against the bracket.)

I switched on the ignition and watched the warning lights for turn signals, neutral and high beam.

The high-beam warning bulb didn't come on. I pulled the fitting out, removed the bulb and squinted at it; sure enough, the filament was broken. I salvaged a bulb from the unused wiring that came with my replacement speedometer. It worked! (These are 12-volt 2-watt bulbs if you need new ones.)

So, back on with the headlight and we're all ready for a test run, right?

Errr, no. I'd forgotten to reconnect the speedometer cable. Back off with the headlight and let's get that done.

UPDATE: The replacement speedometer/odometer works fine. Makes me wonder if I could disassemble the old one, rescue the odometer tumbler from it, and insert it into the working replacement? I'd love to be able to display the thousands of miles we've travelled.

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