Maintenance Matters: The Close Call

Sometimes you just get lucky.

As part of the affliction that makes me modify or “upgrade” all my motorcycles, I installed a set of braided-steel brake lines on my 2005 Suzuki DR650. They helped improve brake feel and would be, I hoped, durable.

[ The brake line is supposed to run behind the fork leg just above the disc. When it slips and makes contact with the brake, bad things happen.

On the DR, as on many dirt bikes, the relatively flexible line is wrapped in a stiffer nylon sheath where it runs in two ring-type guides. The idea is to make the line flex elsewhere, not between the upper triple clamp and the bottom hose clamp just above the brake disc.

A few hundred miles after installing the line, I realized that it was moving inside the nylon sheath, enough so that the lower loop, which goes around the inside of the fork leg, had come in contact with the disc. I looked carefully—I thought—at the line and determined that the disc had rubbed through the clear plastic but had not penetrated the steel braid. A few loops of safety wire later, the inner line and outer sheath were locked together. I figured that would complete the fix.

But the damage had been done. And it didn’t take much to find it. I just happened to squeeze the brake lever hard enough to burst the soft inner liner, sending a jet of brake fluid across the shop and my heart rate skyrocketing. That could have happened at a stop light or avoiding a car veering into my path. That could have had a bad outcome.

The twin lessons are these: First, never assume. I should have taken a magnifying glass and strong light to the damaged area before proclaiming it fit. And, second, give anything related to brakes—maintenance, so-called upgrades, and modifications—an extra dose critical thought.

Go to school on me.